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Boarders review – this private school satire is absolutely packed with future megastars
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Boarders review – this private school satire is absolutely packed with future megastars


Some people have unusual traditions in their private schools, such as having two or even three last names, complaining about the high cost of maintaining their family homes, and a love for wearing red trousers. However, there are also advantages to attending these schools. For example, it appears that attending Eton increases the chances of becoming a member of the cabinet in the future, just like winning a coin toss. In the comedy drama Boarders on BBC Three, a social outreach program offers five underprivileged Black characters the chance to attend the prestigious private school St Gilbert’s. This opportunity sets them up for successful futures.

However, there is a condition attached to their involvement. It is a strategic move by the school’s public relations team to improve its image following the release of a video showing some students ridiculing a homeless man and spraying him with expensive champagne. The head of the outreach program (portrayed by the show’s creator Daniel Lawrence Taylor) tells the strict headteacher of St Gilbert’s, “It’s a sign of how bad it is when even the Daily Mail refers to it as the great British shame.”

Five talented students, each with their own unique personalities and challenges, arrive at St Gilbert’s for their sixth form education. Jaheim, a tough and gifted student, is easily provoked and becomes a target for the wealthy elites at the school. Leah, a politically active student, objects to the gentrification of the area and the offensive artwork depicting enslaved individuals in the school’s halls. She also refuses to refer to the head teacher as “Master”. Omar, a geeky student with a love for comic books and secret societies, goes to extremes by defacing the sports field and throwing himself into a bin. Femi, a proud Nigerian student, seamlessly integrates into the school’s community despite his overbearing family and eccentricities. Lastly, there is Toby, an entrepreneurial student who speaks fluent Japanese to better enjoy films by Yasujirō Ozu and has also learned Farsi for haggling with the Iranian owners of a trainer shop.

Originally known as the official group “Gilbertines”, they not only encounter peculiar rituals and customs, but also face bullying, underestimation, and objectification (Jaheim’s romantic interest, Beatrix, bluntly introduces herself with the statement: “I have never seen a Black penis before”). Despite the initial episode setting up a high-stakes situation with graphic assaults and expulsions, the rest of the series takes on a more relaxed pace- with the previously terrifying villainous elite becoming quirky oddballs with familial issues and a tendency to view visits to their classmates’ homes as a form of poverty tourism. The show’s transition to lower stakes, moving from our characters experiencing horrific trauma to focusing on winning competitions or impressing their love interests’ snobbish parents, is a sensible one. While St. Gilbert’s may seem like a great opportunity on paper, it would be unrealistic to keep such savvy and intelligent young people in an institution that consistently abuses them. The shift from “the elitists could kill you” to “the elitists are problematic and ridiculous” allows for more comedic moments from the talented cast- and includes heartwarming scenes of innocent young love.

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The supporting characters in this show are not as captivating as the main cast, which is fitting for the subject. However, similar to the show Skins from almost twenty years ago, it has the potential to launch future stars into the spotlight. Campbell, Diaby, and Tedeku stand out with their on-screen charisma, and Tedeku’s performance can even rival that of a young Daniel Kaluuya. Each of these characters is complex, with a strong sense of self but a deep desire to fit in with their peers.

Assa Kanouté, who plays Leah’s roommate Abby, stands out as a promising talent. Initially, she portrays the typical mean girl character with sharp, sassy remarks in their interactions. However, as the show progresses, Abby’s character becomes more complex and intriguing, particularly in regards to her views on race, class, and their shared school, St Gilbert’s.

Instead of getting caught up in disagreements related to race and social status, towards the end of the series, these issues are just one aspect of life for the young students at St Gilbert’s. It’s an entertaining, humorous, and intricate story about growing up that captures the chaos and happiness of youth, where many individuals struggle to find their place. Despite being surrounded by impressive buildings and eccentric privileged individuals, it is the skills and performances of the young characters that truly stand out.

Source: theguardian.com