The Lesson REVIEW – A Study in Excellence

The Lesson is so good it will engage even the most reluctant student.

The Lesson
The Lesson

Liam Sommers (Daryl McCormack) is an English Lit major who has dreams of being a writer. His favourite author is J.M. Sinclair (Richard E. Grant), and he has aspirations to follow in his footsteps one day. So when the opportunity comes to be a tutor to Sinclair’s son Bertie (Stephen McMillan), and therefore be in proximity to the man himself, Liam leaps at the opportunity.

They say never meet your heroes, because in reality they are flawed individuals, and can never live up to the image of them you’ve conjured in your head. This is especially so for Sinclair, who is so self-consumed that he subjects his entire family to his judgment. Bertie, who is preparing for Oxford, is constantly demeaned and undermined by his father, while his wife Hélène (Julie Delpy) is tasked to make sure that everything in the household runs according to his needs.

The narrative unravels slowly, bringing the viewer gradually into the lives of this family, as Liam’s officially invited to become a live-in tutor in order to provide Bertie with all the support he needs. McCormack was in last year’s Good Luck to you, Leo Grande, and proved himself as an up and coming actor to watch out for. He’s in fine form here once again as Liam. He’s able to play the wide-eyed, enthusiastic fan, but also handle the transition to critic, as he starts to find flaws with Sinclair’s character as well as his writing. As a Lit major myself, it is such a treat to listen to McCormack recite beautiful lines from literary works, and just bask in the beautiful tenor of his voice.

Delpy’s role isn’t as substantial in this film, but she does so much with the character. She fleshes out Hélène’s melancholy due to the death of her eldest son, as well as the constraints of having to live for someone instead of with. Hélène is an artist too, but it’s clear that Sinclair looks at her work as inferior to his, viewing her as an extension of himself rather than an individual. There’s so many layers to Hélène, and it is only at the end that we are able to see her for who she is.

The Lesson functions like a novel, and as we move into each new chapter, we’re taken on more twists and turns, until we’re left gasping at the end when we realise how the beginning of the film ties in with the conclusion. Massive kudos here to writer Alex MacKeith, who’s fashioned an intriguing screenplay that’s able to hook us until the very end. The film offers us such an insightful look into the process of writing, and how stories, while fictive, must come from some sense of reality. Writing not grounded in some form of lived experience – either first or second hand – will always feel a little hollow and empty. The hardest thing to live with is to be a writer with nothing to write about, or to lose that ability to create something meaningful.

Sinclair has a maxim that he’s very fond of repeating: average writers strive for something original, good writers borrow, while great writers steal. It feels like the film’s being almost meta here. Yes, The Lesson’s thriller packaging isn’t the most original, and there might be a paperback somewhere out there with a similar premise. However, it’s managed to be something so fresh and new at the same time, and will probably be one of the most fascinating films you see this year.

Review screener provided.

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The Lesson
The Lesson draws us in with its delicious twists and turns, and a central performance from Daryl McCormack that proves he's a force to reckon with.