• To Sir, with Love



    Released by: Twilight Time
    Released on: January 20, 2015
    Director: James Clavell
    Cast: Sidney Poitier, Christian Roberts, Judy Geeson, Suzy Kendall, Chris Chittell, Lulu, The Mindbenders
    Year: 1967
    Purchase From Screen Archives

    The Movie:

    Mark Thackeray hopes to get a job as an engineer, but in the meantime he has accepted a teaching position at North Quay, a school for difficult and troubled students. As expected, they prove to be rude and unruly. A leather-jacketed student named Denham is the worst, though pretty but obnoxious Dare isn’t far behind. Thackeray remains a pushover until, one morning, he discovers that his students have burned a sanitary napkin in the classroom’s stove, thus stinking up the room. He blows his stack and announces that from this point forward, he’s going to treat his students like adults. But even as the other students take to their new teacher, Denham resists.

    To Sir, with Love is based on a 1959 novel of the same name by a young black teacher named E.R. Braithwaite. Though considered a novel, the book is largely autobiographical, though critics and former students have challenged its veracity. It would certainly appear that Braithwaite was influenced by Evan Hunter’s classic novel The Blackboard Jungle (1954) and the subsequent film based on it, which proved a powerhouse in theaters the following year. But ultimately it doesn’t matter; at its heart, his book is a tale of a minority outsider making a world for himself in a predominantly white world and succeeding, despite the many obstacles he faces. It proved a beacon for many, a model that extended to the fictional character of Mark Thackeray in the film adaptation.

    To Sir, with Love might not have been original even in its day, but it was a snapshot of a time and place in history, one that reflected the social changes occurring at the time the film was made. As if to emphasize the point, Sidney Poitier was selected to play the lead. It was fortuitous casting, given just how terrific a year Poitier would prove to have, and in three films that tackled the issue of race head on at a time when civil rights were the presiding social issue. (The other two films were In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.) The result is something of a socio-historic, cinematic triumvirate: When viewed today, Poitier’s films of 1967 can provide viewers with a teachable moment about race relations in the 1960s.

    Poitier isn’t the only actor giving a terrific performance in the film. The other two standouts are Christian Roberts and Judy Geeson as Denham and Dare. Roberts went on to star in Hammer’s The Anniversary the very next year, followed by appearances in other films worth nothing for R!S!P! viewers: Twisted Nerve (also 1968) and Amicus’s The Mind of Mr. Soames (1970). Geeson also went on to grace a Hammer production, starring alongside Peter Cushing in Fear in the Night (1972). Her other genre appearances included Goodbye Gemini and 10 Rillington Place (both 1970), Doomwatch (1972), A Candle for the Devil (1973), Dominique (1978), Inseminoid (1980), and The Lords of Salem (2012).

    Thanks to terrific performances, a memorable title song (by Lulu, who also starred as one of the problematic students), strong direction, and a smart script. To Sir, with Love has gone down in history as one of the great films of the 1960s.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    To Sir, with Love comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Twilight Time in an MPEG-4 AVC encode. The film is presented in 1080p at 1.85:1. Some reviews have accused the BD of being too grainy, but nothing could be further from the truth. There is an organic layer of grain, it’s true, but it’s never obtrusive or distracting. Nor does it obliterate detail. This may not be as detail-heavy a release as some Twilight Time titles have been, but there’s still plenty of it, particularly in facial shots, clothing, and the school’s brick facade. If anything, the transfer has a very similar look to The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, another TT release of a late 1960s film set in a school in London. Color reproduction is also nice (if not entirely accurate; skin tones are slightly off, but this will be noticeable only to diehard viewers). In all, there’s very little to complain about. The film looks better than it ever has.

    There are two audio tracks: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and DTS-HD Master Audio Mono. The film plays out in the latter (which should please purists), while the former is used for the isolated music and effects track. Given that the 2.0 track is the more robust of the two, it’s a little disappointing that the full soundtrack wasn’t issued in it, but it’s a small price to pay. One of the film’s claims to fame is the title song by Lulu, which was a huge international hit in 1967, and it sounds great here—every single time it plays! (At one point, when the students take a trip to the British Museum of Natural History, the film turns into a music video with some very artsy, in-your-face direction at odds with the rest of the picture.) For viewers who are deaf or hearing impaired—or who simply have a difficult time with British accents—English subtitles are provided.

    Twilight Time has packed the release with extras, beginning with two audio commentaries.

    First up is a commentary featuring film historian Julie Kirgo, BD producer Nick Redman, and star Judy Geeson. It’s a terrific track. Kirgo and Redman prove themselves highly knowledgeable about the film, and Geeson provides ample background information and anecdotes to keep things fresh. There isn’t a dull moment for anyone interested in the film. (Now if only Twilight Time would pick up Fear in the Night and record a commentary with Geeson for it.) The second commentary features writers Braithwaite and Salome Thomas-El. Braithwaite has a terrific memory and he exercises it to effective use. El understands the world from which Braithwaite/Thackeray comes, as well as the challenges faced by underprivileged students no matter their background, race, and geographic location. Both men are perfectly controlled and never miss a beat. They appear to have recorded their commentaries separately, with each one edited into a seamless whole.

    “E.R. Braithwaite: In His Own Words” runs almost 24 minutes in length and features an interview with the author that focuses on his life leading up to and including his time as a teacher. It’s certainly interesting, and Braithwaite comes across as friendly and intelligent. One wishes it would have gone on to include the many great achievements he made later in life. Running at a little over five minutes in length, “Lulu and the B-Side” focuses on ‘60s pop sensation Lulu and how she came to be involved in the film and to sing its popular theme song. It features interviews with both Lulu and costar Michael Des Barres, who played the student who wears his sunglasses in class. The two are reunited for “Miniskirts, Blue Jeans, and Pop Music,” which branches out from Lulu to cover London’s mod scene. This second featurette runs a little over 15 minutes. Next up is “To Sidney with Love from Marty Baum” (also a little over five minutes). A former agent with Creative Artists Agency, Baum details how the novel came to the attention of Hollywood and Poitier. In “Principal El: He Chose to Stay” (11:00), award-winning principal and author Salome Thomas-El discusses the import of the film and its effect on him. He then discusses the importance of giving underprivileged students a real opportunity at a future by working with them. Rounding out the extras is the film’s original theatrical trailer, which runs a little over three minutes in length. All of the extras are in 1080p.

    Finally, liner notes from Kirgo are included. As usual, they are appropriately reverent and informative.

    The Final Word:

    To Sir, with Love looks and sounds great. Natural but unobtrusive grain, nice attention to detail, and generally good colors combine to make this very similar visually to TT’s release of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. There’s also a plethora of special features for viewers interested in learning more about the film’s background, from audio commentaries to featurettes. This isn’t simply a BD that belongs on fans’ shelves; it belongs on the shelves of anyone interested in cinema as a whole and in particular the cinema of race-class intersection.

    The Blu-ray is a special edition limited to 3,000 copies.


    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!




















    Comments 3 Comments
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      I haven't seen this one in years, but I remember liking both it and Blackboard Jungle. The 80's version, Lean on Me, is pretty substandard in comparison.
    1. C.D. Workman's Avatar
      C.D. Workman -
      I agree, Mark. I did kind of like the '90s version, DANGEROUS MINDS, if mostly for Michelle Pfeiffer.
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      It's no THE SUBSTITUTE.