Thursday, November 11, 2010


During my formative teenage years, I developed a fondness for the British cinema of the mid-to-late 1960s. These films spanned several genres: the serious spy film (The Deadly Affair); social satire (Nothing But the Best); quirky thriller (Bunny Lake Is Missing); and pop culture comedy (Georgy Girl). The only thing they shared was a healthy dose of cynicism and impeccable British casts. So, it seems ironic that one of my favorite films of this period is an upbeat, almost sentimental, tale starring a mainstream American actor.

In a role seemingly tailored for him, Sidney Poitier plays Mark Thackeray, a young engineer looking for a job. Unable to find one in his chosen profession, he accepts temporary employment as a teacher in an inner-city London school. It’s a bleak situation—the students are out of control, most of the teachers are burned out, and the school reflects the poverty of the surrounding neighborhood.

Thackeray’s initial attempts to reach his students fail miserably. He finally concludes that the teens act childish because they’re treated as children. He starts showing them respect and demands the same of them. He tosses out the curriculum and teaches his students about life. In the end, Thackeray becomes a teacher and his students become adults.

Cynics will no doubt criticize To Sir, With Love as simple-minded and obvious. Perhaps, it is, but the story is put across with such conviction and professionalism that it’s impossible to ignore its many charms. In particular, a subplot involving an attractive student (Judy Geeson) who develops a crush on Thackeray is handled impeccably. Its only flaw is that Poitier and Geeson have such a natural chemistry that one almost wishes a romance could work out between them (but then, To Sir, With Love would have been a very different film).

The film’s theme, sung by Lulu (who plays one of the students), became a huge hit. Director Clavell must have recognized the song’s potential—it’s heard multiple times through the picture. In one scene, it’s played over a montage of Thackeray taking his students to a museum. The scene looks very much like the world’s first music video.

Sidney Poitier is one of my favorite actors of the 1960s, with memorable performances in films like A Patch of Blue, Lilies in the Field, and In the Heat of the Night. Judy Geeson went on to play a major role in the vastly entertaining British miniseries Poldark and Poldark II. When my wife and I were in London in 1987, we saw Lulu in a production of the stage musical Peter Pan. She played Peter and she still sounded great.

* Sorry for the re post. Something went screwy when I deleted a video that was no longer available. I' am glad that I did not loose the article to cyber land. *


  1. Rick,
    Sidney Poitier, is both a force to be reckoned with and compassionate in his amazing performance. Other than the fashions and slang , the story is timeless. Wonderful review Rick. Now, I want to watch this wonderful film again.
    Awesome!! That you saw Lulu in person. That must have been an amazing experience.

  2. To Sir, With Love is my favorite of all Sidney Poitier's films followed by A Patch of Blue. They are the types of films I like to see over and over again. Great review.

  3. Dawn and Silentfilmfanatic, this is kind of movie that if it's being broadcast while I'm channel surfing, I end up watching it again (even though I own a copy). I wish they hadn't made the TV-movie sequel TO SIR, WITH LOVE II. It just didn't work...even with Sidney. Some films are just too perfect the way they are and should be left alone.

  4. P.S. I love A PATCH OF BLUE, LILIES OF THE FIELD, IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, and GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER. Sidney had a great run in the 1960s!

  5. Rick, I forgot to mention.. love the picture of Sidney dancing..:)

  6. Awesome post Rick. This is one of my faves and like you every time it's on, I will watch it.


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