Mark Thackeray (Sidney Poitier) travels to his first day of work in Britain on a bus through the East End of London, amused at the saucy talk of the housewives around him. He's the new schoolteacher at North Quay and meets his first pupil inside the school gates as the teenager smokes and regards him with suspicion. Thackeray finds the staffroom where he is welcomed by the other teachers, although Mr Weston (Geoffrey Bayldon) tells him in no uncertain terms that he must be foolhardy to take such a job, especially as the previous man who held the post left because he couldn't handle the pressure anymore. When Thackeray finally enters the classroom to begin teaching, the pupils are nothing short of unruly, so will he be able to cope over the coming months?
Of course he will, you don't hire Sidney Poitier and expect him to mess up, do you? To Sir With Love was adapted from the novel by E.R. Braithwaite by director James Clavell, and proved surprisingly popular in its day, particularly in America. It's not hard to see why with its star as the initial underdog who eventually succeeds and charms all those around him through his level headedness and integrity; there's a very traditional story here beneath the teen rebellion and daring (for the time) language - although nothing stronger than the odd "bloody" or "arse". It's also nice to see Poitier tackle the dramas of the schoolroom from the other side, as opposed to his role in The Blackboard Jungle a decade before.
The film has remained popular through the years, perhaps because of its somewhat sentimental view of schoolkids who just need the right kind of guidance to set them on the path to contented adulthood, all this despite the first half hour of bad behaviour Thackeray has to endure. He has left life in British Guyana, after a spell in America (to explain his accent), and is hoping for a job in engineering, but this teaching post is the only one he can secure for the moment. Thankfully he doesn't have to put up with much racism: although ringleader of the rebels Denham (Christian Roberts) calls him "chimney sweep" and asks impolite questions about his background, mostly it's Thackeray's authority over them that annoys the kids.
However, once he decides they'll learn nothing from dry textbooks and suggests a more progressive tack, Thackeray starts to win his class over. For a while the pranks get so intensive that you wonder when he's going to crack, but when he does it teaches him something, that when he loses his temper he loses his authority. So he starts telling them, in question and answer sessions, that as they're about to leave school at the end of the year he will be treating them like adults and he expects them to respond in kind. After that, it's all visits to the museum (presented in montage form with supporting actress Lulu warbling the title song over it) and one of the girls, Pamela (Judy Geeson) getting a crush on Thackeray. In fact, by the end, with even Denham convinced, the film plunges into the realms of fantasy with Poitier dancing while surrounded by the adoring pupils and teachers clapping along. Yet it's Poitier who carries this on his capable shoulders, rendering To Sir With Love as a neat nostalgia piece, if not a believable one. Music by Ron Grainer.