School Life (PG) | Close-Up Film Review

Dirs: Neasa Ni Chianain & David Rane, Ireland/ Spain 2016, 100 mins.

Cast: John Leyden, Amanda Leyden, Dermot Dix, School student

Review by Carlie Newman

A few years back, in 2002, there was a delightful French film called ‘Etre et Avoir’ about a one room school in rural France. The class was full of tiny children learning under a kindly teacher. It was funny and sweet. ‘School Life’ is not the equal of that movie. It is, however, interesting in its own way.

This film is more about leaving – older children are finishing here and going on to other schools and the two teachers with whom we spend the most time are facing retirement. Headfort School is in Kells, Ireland, a boarding schol for boys and girls aged 8 to 13. The film follows a year in the life of the school and its inhabitants as the seasons change and the students grow.

We spend most of the time with Amanda and John Leyden who have taught at the school for some 46 years. Both are eccentric in style: Amanda loves the children and teaching literature. She particularly enjoys reading with them and is equally happy sharing ‘The Famous Five as more illusrtious books. John likes to have discussions with the children around his subjects but is keenest on his rock music group; his search for a drummer throws up some amusing moments.

While it is a joy to see the kids running around, climbing trees and spending a lot of time playing, it is a pity to note that they wear very conventional school uniforms. They appear to have a lot of freedom and choice but they are still regimented – although not by the Leydens – and stand up and say “Sir” on command. The Headmaster, Dermot Dix, is himself a former student who was taught by the Leydens.

The best parts of the film, ably directed by Neasa Ni Chianain and David Rane, are those that show the couple both on and off duty. The two smoke and talk together in an easy affectionate relationship. We see them at home as they discuss what on earth they would do if they retired. Then we watch them at school, looking after the kids with real care as they teach them and look after them at the same time.

The audience is given a good all-round view of what goes on at this special boarding school, due in no small part to the two remarkable long-serving eccentric British teachers.