To Sir, with Love (1967) is probably my favorite Sidney Poitier movie. What’s not to love about Sidney Poitier? He’s credited with opening up the world of film for African-Americans by expanding the nature of their roles. Of all of his memorable characters, Mr. Thackeray is my favorite. He steps in as an instructor at an underprivileged school where the teachers have given up on the students. But instead of joining his colleagues in their hopelessness, he raises the standards for the students and teaches them anything they wish to know.
This plot has been used again and again, but we like moviegoers generally seem to like it. To Sir, with Love could be considered a precursor to a sub-genre of films such as Stand and Deliver (1988), Dead Poets Society (1989), and The Emperor’s Club (2002). Interestingly, the year after Sir was released, the similarly-themed The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969), starring Dame Maggie Smith, premiered. Contrary to Poitier’s inspirational Mr. Thackeray, however, Miss Brodie truly becomes a manipulator for her own political and career gain–though each teacher’s special attentions and influences in shaping the minds of youth are somewhat similar.
Sidney Poitier was the perfect actor for this role. His tone, posture, diction, and manner draw in the audience the way he would his students. The film is excellent, the script well-written, and the premise inspiring. Sir insists that hope helps people achieve potential and that we rise to the standards expected of us. Mr. Thackeray begins by commanding respect and returning it. From there, he engages the students by teaching them honestly and openly. His success with his students–and their resulting gratitude–strengthens his resolve and dedication to return and continue turning around the lives of the city youth.
The film also features Lulu as “Babs”–my other favorite character in the film. Lulu was a popular British musician in the 1960s and performs the famous title song, “To Sir, with Love,” in the film. Lulu is still around and has performed in various films and television series, almost always in a musical role.
Poitier performed in the film with many other popular British actors of the time, such as Christian Roberts, Judy Geeson, and Suzy Kendall. As Poitier was from Miami (via Bahamian parents), he was a transplant in England as a performer, and a transplant in the world of the film, too. He brought his quiet, revolutionary performance style to his quietly revolutionary character.
Sidney Poitier gives a brilliant performance in this film. He is engaging: formal, yet straightforward, and honest as only Poitier can be. He makes it easy for the audience to align with him, and he leaves us feeling enlightened and hopeful by the end.
Today, August 7th, TCM’s annual Summer Under the Stars event features twenty-four hours of films from Sidney Poitier. I can wholeheartedly recommend all of the films on the schedule; no doubt, it will be a great day filled with shining performances. But if you can only see one movie today, make it To Sir, with Love.
This post is an entry in the “TCM SUTS 2012 Blogathon” hosted by Sittin’ on a Backyard Fence and ScribeHard on Film. You can read all of the entries about Sidney Poitier as they are posted throughout the day. Make sure to check in with Jill and Michael every day this month for more SUTS fun!
To Sir, with Love airs on TCM tonight at 10:15PM EST.