A Teacher is a 2020 limited series that you can now stream on BBC iPlayer in the UK.
Created by Hannah Fidell who wrote and directed the 2013 film of the same name, it stars Kate Mara and Nick Robinson, focussing on an affair between a female teacher and her male student, spanning multiple years in its 10-episode arc.
Teacher-student relationships have become more mainstream in recent years, especially on teen orientated TV shows. Shown as risqué, wrong but hot, they focus on the intense passion in the relationships and sometimes in the case of long-running shows like Pretty Little Liars the relationship is shown in positive lights and excused by ‘small’ age differences.
Even in older shows like Dawson’s Creek where the relationship is short-lived, they very rarely show the ripples such relationships can cause, either good or bad and usually the character continues along unscathed, the incident forgotten after the story arc (see Gossip Girl, Riverdale, it’s a huge trope in the Teen TV world).
You could be remiss during the first half of A Teacher to think it’s another show glorifying an abuse of power for steamy scenes. We pick up with our characters Claire and Eric before their relationship has started. She is a new young teacher at his school and upon meeting him outside of the school environment, offers to tutor him, before the relationship develops further in episode 2. The relationship has a slow burn to begin with and Fidell, who wrote the first 2 episodes and directed the first 3, spends time building Claire and Eric’s individual worlds, something she had not explored in her original film. This allows us to see the types of people they are before the affair and draw our own conclusions as to who is pushing for the relationship and which party is instigating these happenstances to push them together.
There are high moments of passion, Mara and Robinson have great chemistry and a 12 year age gap in real life (Robinson is 25 but playing 17) makes us aware of their age differences, despite still feeling their connection. Where A Teacher differs (and this section contains very mild spoilers) is how far it takes the storyline. We follow their relationship for the initial 6 episodes, but then the show moves forward in time, focussing on where each character is a year after their relationship starts, and again by the final episode we have spanned 10 years since their initial meeting. I watched the whole show in one sitting without meaning to, and I felt this was a show that benefited from block viewing, even just the first 6 episodes vs the last 4, as they feel like mini-movies in themselves. Fiddell’s original film only focussed on a brief window in the relationship, but she succeeds greatly here, where so many shows haven’t, by showing how crossing the line in the way Claire and Eric do in the initial episodes will stay with them forever. We get to see how all of their decisions play out, not just for their relationship together, but for those around them and their futures.
Allowing time for the audience to sympathise for both characters, it treads a careful balance of never blaming either for their actions but still making it clear that there is blame and that the situation they find themselves in is a damaging and life-altering one.
I found A Teacher incredibly watchable, not just because of the excellent writing (Andrew Neel, Ruby Rae Speifgel, Rosa Handleman, Boo Killebrew and Dana Kitchens join Fidell in the credits) that allows us to fully explore the various repercussions, but down to the high quality directing from Fidell, Neel and Gillian Robespierre, the gifted actors, impeccable design and a stunning score from Keegan DeWitt who is fast becoming my favourite film and television composer.
It’s a show you should give the benefit of the doubt, stick with it, draw your own conclusions and see how they may change through the episodes.
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