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BBC Commissions New Film Adaptation of ‘To Sir With Love’

BBC Commissions New Film Adaptation of 'To Sir With Love'

Rapidly skimming the latest press release from the BBC, unveiling upcoming BBC One projects, not really expecting to find anything for *us* in it, I almost missed this listing…

– “To Sir With Love” – 1×90 – adapted by Hanif Kureishi, from the autobiographical novel by ER Braithwaite, made by Rainmark Films. 

Yes indeed, it is what you think it is. BBC One has commissioned a 90-minute film based on Guyanese author E.R. Braithwaite’s 1959 novel, which was adapted for the screen in 1967 and starred Sidney Poitier, in a post-war London tale of social and racial strife in an inner-city school.

In the book, relieved of war duty, Guyanese engineer Ricky Braithwaite returns to a cold welcome in a Britain that has turned its back on the black men and women who fought alongside them in the war. He takes a job as a teacher at an unconventional school in the East End, where he faces a class of unruly white working class kids who test him to his limits. But in the space of one year, their lives are transformed under his guidance, and his own future is turned upside down when he falls in love with a white fellow-teacher.

James Clavell directed the 1967 film. He also wrote the screenplay, adapting from E. R. Braithwaite’s semi-autobiographical novel, as Ricky Braithwaite became Mark Thackeray, as played by Poitier.

It was the 8th highest grossing picture of 1967 in the USA, despite being a British production with just one American star in it – Poitier. It speaks to his popularity at the time.

Twelve years earlier, Poitier co-starred in the somewhat similar “Blackboard Jungle” (1955), also a story about a new teacher at odds with the juvenile delinquents who make up his class (one of them being a younger Poitier). In “To Sir With Love” the student became the teacher. Sort of…

Award-winning British-Pakistani playwright, screenwriter, and filmmaker Hanif Kureishi is adapting Braithwaite’s book for BBC One. Here’s what he had to say via press statement: “ER Brathwaite’s ‘To Sir With Love,’ written and set in London’s East End at the end of the 1950s, is a moving, tough and informative story about an intelligent man whose only hope of work – since he is black – is to become a teacher. As a young man in the 1960s, TSWL was the only novel I was aware of which dealt with the subject of race in Britain, and I hope this dramatization provides a vivid portrayal, particularly for the young, of how Britain has changed since then, and how it has remained the same.”

No word yet on casting or who will direct this new version. 

Tracey Scoffield is executive producing the film for Rainmark Films, along with Lucy Richer for the BBC.

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