Film Review: SCHOOL LIFE (Ireland/Spain 2016) *** 1/2

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School Life Poster

2:24 | Trailer
Long careers are drawing to a close for John and Amanda, who teach Latin, English, and guitar at a stately home-turned-school, where they are legends with a mantra: “Reading. ‘Rithmetic. Rock ‘n’ roll!” But leaving is the hardest lesson.


Etienne Essery (script and story consultant), Neasa Ní Chianáin


Premiering at Sundance and Hot Docs in Toronto, SCHOOL LIFE begins its theatrical run and is one film sure to captivate audiences for its charm and magic.  Almost everyone has fond memories of their primary school and their teachers who are very impressionable.  The film takes the audience around the classes to reveal the studies, the hobbies as well as they extra-curricular activities.  Watching the children read End Blyton’s Famous Five novels will certainly make one wish for to re-live these wonderful times.

SCHOOL LIFE begins with an excellent introduction of two old teachers, a husband and wife as they talk and prepare for their new term.  They teach in the only primary-age boarding school in Kells, Ireland.  Headfort, a school not unlike Hogwarts with its 18th century buildings, secret doors and magical woodlands, has been home to John and Amanda Leyden for 46 years and a backdrop to their extraordinary careers.  For John, rock music is just another subject alongside Maths, English, Scripture and Latin, all of which are taught in a collaborative and often hilarious fashion.  For Amanda the key to connecting with children is the book, and she uses all means to engage the minds of her young charges with literature.

The film charmingly demonstrates what it means to educate.  It is not merely the dissemination of information but the care and concern given to the kids.  This is especially true for a boarding school whee the children are left behind for the first time not to see their parents for a few weeks.  For nearly half a century John and Amanda have shaped thousands of minds but as the film opens, it is finally time for them to start making preparations for their retirement.  “What are we gong to do when we have nowhere to go?” questions the husband.  The two are still healthy though they smoke quite a bit.

The film’s best segment has a teacher discussing with the class the controversial issue of same sex marriage.  The reactions from the primary school students are innocent, revealing and sometimes surprising.  “It is not right,” says one. “God made a man and a woman not two men, to which the teacher replies, “How do you know God exists?”   Other keen observations from the film include the teachers’ speed at rebuttal and the delicate concern each one has over their pupils.

The film ends with the pupils finishing the school year and leaving the school with their parents.  It is a touching moment when goodbyes are said.  The audience also feels sad to have to depart with the film’s characters who have been made so endearing by the filmmakers.

The film flows so smoothly it feels as if the doc is scripted.  Well conceived from start to finish, moving, sad, funny and inspirational, SCHOOL LIFE turns out to be marvellous entertainment.


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