C4’s First Cut documentaries usually arrive in the form of 30 minute societal peculiars, but as the strand returns for a new outing this evening, we are treated to a Talking Heads-style masterclass from witer/director George Kay and one-man-cast Phil Davis.
Blurring the lines between drama and doc (C4 advise that although details are fictional, this skit is based on real-life events) Double Lesson tells the story of a secondary school teacher recounting the events that led to his impending trail for assaulting a pupil. As you can imagine there’s plenty in the way of mitigation, but with teachers striking left right-and-centre and the government bringing in legislation which allows them to use ‘reasonable force’, C4 have hit the topical bullseye here. Davis is excellent as the teacher in question and he recounts the way the pupils mocked his ill wife with palpable elan, but his fine performance is just one of many factors which combine to make this shot of emotive drama a winner…
While Davis carries the drama effortlessly, it is the script that really does the work. Little details here and there turn what would have been a run-of-the-mill Metro news story into humanised tale of personal lament. “‘What are you going to do when Fiona loses her tit?’ he asks me. Fiona. They know my wife’s name..” This is a stream of conciousness which captures the very nature of work-place stress from the helplessness of emotional attachment to the callous ignorance of the kids involved. Indeed his tale is so evocative that we can’t help but sympathise with Mr De Gale, even after hearing that he stabbed a kid with a compass.
Furthermore the subject matter is guaranteed to inflame a sense of injustice in most people. The newspapers are filled with stories about teachers being immediately suspended on the say-so of nasty little urchins. What’s more, most of us have also encountered deluded parents who believe their little bastard-child to be the victim of a vicious conspiracy. There’s nothing like an assault on blame-culture and professional maltreatment to get audiences onside.
But for all this good stuff, it is the length of this offering that really dragged me in. In an age of protracted drama series, committing to a television show for 30 minutes is the easiest thing in the world, especially when it pushes the right buttons..