Friday, 15 July 2011

First Cuts: Double Lesson - 'It felt right, somehow'

Another day, another review for Orange...

Tucked away on Friday evenings, First Cuts is a nice little documentary strand that’s thrown up some very enjoyable films in the past. However, last night’s episode was an unusual and welcome addition – a fictional monologue delivered by Phil Davis, one of our favourite actors.

Double Lesson, written and directed by George Kay, told the story of David De Gale, an experienced teacher who lost it one day and physically attacked one of his pupils in the classroom.

Preparing for his trial, David described the combination of domestic and professional pressures that built up to his explosive attack. Struggling to cope with his wife’s impending mastectomy, the final straw came when a disruptive kid started to influence another, more promising pupil.

The film did a beautifully balanced job of neither condemning or condoning his actions: while the stress and provocation he was facing were evident – and the script bravely had David saying, “it felt right, somehow” – the nature of the attack and the fact it was on the kid he actually liked made it evidently unacceptable.

In the second half of the drama, David outlined the terrible limbo in which he found himself once the consequences of his actions became clear. With his wife moving back to her mother’s and his son retreating in to a world of dope-smoking and door-slamming, the only glimmer of hope for David came from a letter from a former pupil, now a solicitor, offering to represent him.

Although the film was based on “real events and factual research”, and offered insight into why a teacher might respond like that, I still felt a little that the fictional treatment inevitably put a bit of gloss on the issue – especially when it turns up in a “documentary” series.

However, that’s a bit of a churlish complaint. Double Lesson was complex and convincing, with a characteristically compelling performance from Phil Davis hinting at the bitterness, turmoil and regret bubbling away beneath the teacher’s calmly measured exterior.

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