Set at a tough high school in London's East End, at the tail end of the swinging sixties, To Sir, With Love is tagged as heavy-hitting social drama. It stars Sidney Poitier as a out of work engineer who takes a temporary teaching post to tide himself over, and singer Lulu, as one of the class, performs a soaring theme song of adolescent angst and gratitude.
I was amused to find the film much less dramatic than I had expected. That's not to say it doesn't address tough issues - it does, and they are still current, the characters negotiating violence, racism, sex, poverty, and death, as well as the difficulty of being taken seriously by adults. The issues of growing up, then, haven't changed much since 1967 - but the behaviour presented as so shocking is sweetly dated - the dreadful teens seemed to me almost sweet by today's standards!
However, this is a film with great heart, and Poitier's teacher-turned-advisor gaining the respect of his class, giving wayward youths lashing out against their own helplessness a sense of personal responsibilty, and even provoking change in a fairly reactionary community, is a lovely thing to watch.
A good teacher - student relationship can be hugely important in a teenager's life. That relationship in Half Nelson begins when a troubled student discovers her charismatic young teacher struggles with a drug addiction. A deft blend of social commentary, sensitive performances and hopeful spirit.