Channel 5’s ‘The Teacher’ sees Sheridan Smith tackle a tricky role.

by | Jan 31, 2022 | All, Reviews

One bad word, one selfie misdemeanour, and your reputation could crumble,” English teacher Jenna Garvey (Sheridan Smith) remarks to a class full of rowdy Year 10s. Little does Jenna know, these words will soon come back to haunt her as a life-changing accusation is made.

Smith is without a doubt known for her versatility throughout her lengthy career. She’s done it all. But her role in Channel 5’s new drama The Teacher could be the furthest she’s ever gone.

The first half of the opening episode is devoted to set up.  We get a pretty good idea of who Jenna is from the get-go. Waking up in an unknown flat next to an unknown man, with empty glasses and condom wrappers scattered on the table, it’s obvious that Jenna likes to party – and when she arrives at work, dishevelled and hungover, it’s obvious her colleagues know that too. The disapproving looks, particularly from Nina (Sharon Rooney) paint a pretty good picture of what the staff think of her. The only friend she seems to have in the staff room is Jack (Kelvin Fletcher), but the flirty vibe between them suggests the two would like to be more than friends.

Despite Jenna’s wild lifestyle, she’s excellent at her job. Headteacher Ken Mills (Anil Desai) encourages her to go for Head of English, and her Year 10s perform brilliantly in their mocks. Although there are a few bumps in the road – most notably a strained relationship with her father, and unpleasant messages from an anonymous source – Jenna seems to be balancing her work and personal life for the most part.

Though the pacing is quite slow, it is needed in order for us to know Jenna and to see her in a sympathetic light, to know that surely the accusation that comes later in the episode can’t hold any truth… or can it?

After another drunken night out – witnessed by concerned colleague Pauline (Cecilia Noble) – Jenna arrives at work and is confused as everyone in the staffroom quickly leaves. It is only then that Jenna learns the devastating news: An accusation of sexual activity with fifteen-year-old pupil Kyle (Samuel Bottomley) has been made.

At the police station, Jenna admits that she suffers from blackouts when drunk, but adamantly denies the claims made against her. Up until this point – and perhaps a testament to Smith’s naturalistic performance – it’s hard not to feel for her.

That is until she gets home later that night and listens to a voicemail message. It’s from Kyle, sent in the early hours of Saturday morning. He apologises for “whatever happened” and signs off by saying that he “loved f***ing her”. Jenna consequently breaks down in tears.

it’s difficult to know who’s telling the truth: the English teacher with a wild side who suffers from regular blackouts, or the (as yet) mysterious fifteen-year-old boy, unpopular and teased by his peers because of his home life?

On that note, it will be interesting to see more of Bottomley’s performance as Kyle. He was a standout performer in Channel 4’s Ackley Bridge and has the skills needed to pull off such a difficult role. And as for Smith, although she is no stranger to playing troubled characters, if the claims against Jenna turn out to be true, this could be her darkest role to date.

In truth, Channel 5 dramas aren’t there to challenge. They know their job as disposable thrillers and they deliver what the audience likes and expects. The dialogue is patchy, the actions of the police utterly unbelievable but Smith skilfully lifts what is a rather pedestrian and ‘by the numbers’ drama into something you feel you’re not wasting your time on. It’s not a show with a great deal of depth (judging solely by the first episode) but it’s one that those who tuned in for episode one are likely to stick with until the resolution. Does it ask any real questions about consent or the Teacher/student relationship? Not really, but I’m sure there’s a big section of the Five audience who will enjoy it as Smith doesn’t put a foot wrong.

The Teacher is available to watch now on Channel 5 and streaming service My5.

Amy Beth

Amy Beth

31/01/2022

An avid TV watcher, particularly fond of comedy and horror. Currently completing my BA in Film Studies & Screenwriting, while occasionally dreaming of having my own sitcom.

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