The documentary look at a year in what is described as the only primary-age boarding school in Ireland is as much about the dedicated teachers as the assortment of students. Husband and wife filmmakers Neasa Ní Chianáin and David Rane take a fly-on-the-wall approach as they record doings in the Headfort school, located in an old, imposing castle-like building on sprawling, woodsy grounds.
The main faculty focus is on the dedicated couple John and Amanda Leyden, who have been teaching at the school for 46 years. John is especially good in teaching music and forging some students into a lively rock band with vocals. Amanda loves to instill the children with appreciation for literature.
It takes a somewhat boring while to get into the subject, but as one gets to know the Leydens, and some of the students as individuals, one can warm to the portraits and become much more involved. For me a highlight was Amanda whipping the students into shape for putting on a school play, Shakespeare no less, and watching some of the kids plunging enthusiastically into the dialogue is a hoot.
We see the students getting into sports and striking up friendships in relating to one another. The Leydens provide a relaxed, intimate atmosphere and their dedication in trying to instill the best in the youngsters is evident. At the end of the school year, we watch faculty members meeting for student evaluations, and ultimately there is the final assembly at which awards are given, one girl earning three of the four prizes presented.
Saying goodbye when parents come to pick up the students is quite emotional for some, given the experience of togetherness that has existed. Appropriately we get an intimate final view of the Leydens, who after all the years, are facing the prospect of retiring. One senses that would leave a big gap in their lives, although they would have the satisfaction of having had a positive influence on so many of the students in their charge. The filmmakers capture all of this in their quiet approach of observing. A Magnolia Pictures release. Reviewed September 5, 2017.