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The Lesson (15)

Cast: Daryl McCormack, Richard E Grant, Stephen McMillan, Julie Delpy, Crispin Letts
Genre: Drama
Author(s): Alex MacKeith
Director: Alice Troughton
Release Date: 22/09/2023
Running Time: 103mins
Country: UK
Year: 2023

Liam Somers is hired to tutor the son of his literary idol, JM Sinclair, who has retreated from public view following the death of eldest child Felix. JM's elegant wife Helene furnishes Liam with a contract and non-disclosure agreement prior to moving into the family home. She kindly offers advice on how to navigate JM's prickly nature. Liam builds rapport with young scion Bertie who must prepare for a university admissions interview to study English Literature at Oxford.


LondonNet Film Review

The Lesson (15) Film Review from LondonNet

During a tense exchange between a revered author and an interviewer in director Alice Troughton’s debut feature, the self-aggrandising scribe holds court on the absence of originality in his craft and gleefully proclaims “Great writers steal”. Screenwriter Alex MacKeith heeds his own words, borrowing elements from other power struggles between mentor and ambitious protegee to fuel a largely predictable study of a cuckoo in a family nest, who witnesses his emotionally scarred hosts unravel at the seams (with some gentle prodding)…

Nenagh-born actor Daryl McCormack, who set hearts aflutter as a sex worker in Good Luck To You, Leo Grande, is in various states of undress here too as the ardent fan, who sheds his rose-tinted spectacles when he observes his literary hero at uncomfortable close quarters. A central tug of war between McCormack and Richard E Grant’s supercilious novelist generates disappointingly few friction burns even when the latter cruelly dismisses his doe-eyed disciple’s years of creative toil as “passable airport fiction”. Cogs of a fanciful plot are well oiled and constantly turn to keep the running time comfortably under two hours.

The Lesson opens with first-time novelist Liam Somers (McCormack) sitting nervously on stage in front of a packed audience, poised to discuss his critically feted story of a fading patriarch in the throes of grief with a moderator (Tomas Spencer). A gentle first question about the inspiration for the book prompts a flashback to the idyllic summer that Liam is hired to tutor the son of his literary idol, JM Sinclair (Grant), who has retreated from public view following the death of eldest child Felix.

JM’s elegant wife Helene (Julie Delpy) furnishes Liam with a contract and non-disclosure agreement prior to moving into the family home. She kindly offers advice on how to navigate JM’s prickly nature: “We don’t talk about his work, we don’t talk about Felix. Follow those rules and you should be fine.” Liam obliges, keen to study the writer and further his literary ambitions, and he builds rapport with young scion Bertie (Stephen McMillan) who must prepare for a university admissions interview to study English Literature at Oxford. Under the silent gaze of family butler Ellis (Crispin Letts), Liam gains the trust of each member of the clan and his positive energy encourages Helene to scold her husband for wallowing in misery. “I married a writer… so write,” she urges.

The Lesson isn’t as sly or ingenious as it wants us to believe, aptly mirroring the misplaced superiority of Grant’s pompous patriarch. Performances are solid but Delpy’s neglected spouse is underpowered until the contrived machinations of a fraught final act. If a great film steals our attention then Troughton’s slow-burning thriller won’t be charged with grand larceny.

– Jo Planter


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