This morning Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series won the Los Angeles Critics’s award for Best picture. It is actually 5 picture, all part of an engrossing series on racial segregation by Steve McQueen. Education, the last film in the series is a befitting finale. It blows the lid on an illegal practice in the British educational system where Black West Indian children were taken out of their mainstream schools and packed off secretly to “sub-normal” schools.
McQueen’s young protagonist Kingsley (Kenyah Sandy)’s struggle at a predominantly white school with just a Muslim fellow-student Aziz to share his loneliness, is set forth with much sensitivity. There is no attempt to paint the White educationists as post-Colonial villains and monsters. This film, like the rest of the series, takes us beyond trite clichés.
Kingsley’s struggle to stay afloat in an education system that has no patience with him, is remarkably vivid. There is an interesting upturning of the rules of domestic hierarchy shown in the other four films in the series. While the rest of the series was dominated by patriarchal forces in the last film of the series, it is the mother and then the sister of the educationally challenged child who dominate the proceedings, while the father remains a shadowy snarling presence.
Oftentimes, Kingsley’s struggle with reading and righting his future will remind you of Taare Zameen Par, though that was a far more dramatic attempt to portray a child’s failing efforts to keep up in school. There are no magical solutions in Education, no Aamir Khan to wave a magic wand. This is real life, painful, frightening and frustrating.
One sequence in this drama of disengagement from the educational mainstream stands out. It’s that big meltdown scene when Kingsley’s mother asks him to read from a book, and he can’t. He simply can’t. Loud wracking sobs fill the room as mother and sister hold the child and console him.
In the entire series, director Steve McQueen had held back from going into a naked display of emotion. Finally though, the emotions had to flow. I'll go with 3.5 stars.
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