Streaming: The Holdovers and the best films about teachers

Streaming: The Holdovers and the best films about teachers


During my school years, there were a few teachers whom I greatly admired. They even served as sources of inspiration for me in some ways. However, I do not believe that a film about my interactions with them would be very exciting to watch. Teaching is a difficult and often underappreciated profession. Even the most exceptional teachers are seldom recognized with the type of rousing, celebratory tributes that are often seen in Hollywood classroom dramas. Nevertheless, films about inspirational teachers continue to be popular. Filmmakers always seem to enjoy envisioning the idealized version of their own school experiences.

Paul Giamatti portrays a different type of character in The Holdovers, which was released on VOD last week. He plays a grumpy, intellectual teacher who surprisingly has a kind heart. Alexander Payne’s offbeat comedy makes an impact through its relatable characters and settings. Giamatti’s irritable classics professor, though outdated, still has something valuable to offer. He is essentially an American version of the old-fashioned schoolmaster from Terence Rattigan’s The Browning Version, which was masterfully portrayed by Michael Redgrave in 1951 (available on Internet Archive). This character was also brought to life by Albert Finney in a 1994 remake that can easily be streamed.

The Holdovers, located in a 1970s New England boys’ prep school, is reminiscent of the rigid institution portrayed in Peter Weir’s Dead Poets Society (1989), where Robin Williams’ unorthodox English teaching caused a stir. Like Weir’s film, Payne’s is praised for its touching portrayal of intergenerational male bonding, although I must admit it does not personally resonate with me. However, even I cannot resist the emotional pull of the original tearjerker, Goodbye, Mr Chips. This film tells the story of a dedicated Latin teacher who spends nearly six decades in the classroom, channeling his desire for fatherhood into mentoring his students. While the 1939 version with Robert Donat is superior, some may prefer the 1969 musical adaptation starring Peter O’Toole.

In my previous writing 18 months ago about the death of Sidney Poitier, I mentioned how the actor excelled in both roles of a classroom drama: playing the rebellious student to Glenn Ford’s brave ex-navy teacher in the superb film Blackboard Jungle (1955), and, over ten years later, portraying the empathetic immigrant teacher who earns the respect of a stubborn group of students in the more sentimental To Sir, With Love.

Ryan Gosling in Half Nelson (2006).View image in fullscreen

The tale of a modest teacher connecting with underprivileged teenagers in the inner city is a well-known one, often depicted in cheesy Hollywood movies like Dangerous Minds and Freedom Writers. However, it can be presented in a more engaging manner. In the exceptional film Half Nelson from 2006, the lines of morality are blurred as Ryan Gosling gives a stellar performance as a compassionate and inventive history teacher in Brooklyn struggling with a drug addiction. In the marvelous 2008 Palme d’Or winner The Class by French director Laurent Cantet, the intense social discussions between a high school teacher in the Paris suburbs and his restless, disadvantaged students are grippingly balanced.

Teacher Georges Lopez with young Letitia in Être et Avoir.

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Cantet’s movie utilizes elements of documentary style to create a realistic portrayal, although the classroom provides ample opportunities for straightforward nonfiction. For example, Nicolas Philibert’s exceptional Être et Avoir (2002) follows a teacher as he single-handedly cares for children aged four to 12 in a small rural school. Another recent German film, Mr Bachmann and His Class (2021), uses a mix of cultural backgrounds to drive classroom conversations in its three-and-a-half-hour runtime. In a similar vein, Frank Ripploh’s 1981 film Taxi zum Klo (Peccadillo Pictures) is a candid and humorous portrayal of a gay primary school teacher balancing his personal and professional lives, making it ahead of its time in its exploration of LGBTQ issues in the education system. Similarly, the 1978 British independent film Nighthawks depicts a gay teacher who must confront his students’ prejudices, resulting in a gripping and impactful story.

Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett in the ‘deliciously lurid’ Notes on a Scandal (2007).

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What about the inadequate educators? Payne presented a less honorable depiction of the profession in his acclaimed film Election (1999), which showcases a fierce clash between Matthew Broderick’s small-minded suburban civics teacher and Reese Witherspoon’s determined teenage overachiever. However, compared to Cate Blanchett’s manipulative classroom manipulator and Judi Dench’s venomous headmistress in the grippingly sensational drama Notes on a Scandal (2007), Broderick’s character would be considered teacher of the year. In the lesser-known The Kindergarten Teacher (2018), Maggie Gyllenhaal delivers a remarkable performance in a more ambiguous role as a devoted and diligent educator. Yet, it begs the question: is she pushing the apparent prodigy in her preschool class for his own good or for her own personal gain?

All titles can be rented on several platforms unless otherwise indicated.


Additionally, there are new releases available on streaming services.

Showing Up
Unfortunately, Kelly Reichardt’s charming and subtle comedy about the struggles of artistic inspiration was first shown at Cannes in 2022 but did not make it to cinemas in the UK. This is surprising because it is a lighthearted and easy-to-watch film, featuring Michelle Williams’ clever and cunning portrayal of a struggling sculptor and a hilariously entertaining Hong Chau as her landlord and artistic competitor.

Michelle Williams in Showing Up.

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It is unusual that Bafta did not include this edgy, powerful LGBTQ+ revenge thriller from first-time filmmakers Sam H Freeman and Ng Choon Ping in their nominations for best British debut. The film is elevated by outstanding performances from Nathan Stewart-Jarrett as a drag queen recovering from a hate crime and George MacKay as his former oppressor who becomes unintentionally entangled in a romantic relationship with him.

The Royal Hotel

Kitty Green’s tense and gradually frightening thriller creates tension from a common concept, following two young Canadian women who work as bartenders in a secluded Australian mining town, only to be confronted by a suffocating male-dominated culture.

(New Wave)

Lila Avilés, a director from Mexico, enhances her already remarkable film The Chambermaid with this lively and emotionally charged family drama. The story follows a young girl as she prepares for a party for her father, who is terminally ill. The ending will leave you heartbroken.