At least his heart's in the wrong place

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The Independent Culture
Most school dramas, at least adult ones, are fantasies of rescue. From To Sir with Love to Kes, they are powered by a redemptive dream, the hard winning of treasure from the most unpromising of materials. Hearts and Minds (C4) begins with some of this prospecting passion, the hope that education can shine a light into the darkest corner and find some responding gleam. And there isn't any doubt from the beginning who the viewer is expected to tag along with, both in the narrative and in our sympathies.

The opening scenes are a noisy tumult of children and voices. Drew, a student teacher starting his placement in an inner city comprehensive, is both a new member of staff and a new boy - a figure as baffled as we are by the school's social rules, by the overlapping din of commands and arguments. He goes through the door with high hopes but his disabusement begins immediately - his head of department has to steer him round a hotly disputed turd on the corridor floor as he takes him to his first class.

Drew's zeal is released in wild-eyed sessions with his inert pupils, numbed by the droning fact-siphoning of a senior staff-member, a man who offers hopeless rhetorical invitations to his class - "Anybody tell me about the iambic pentameter" - but knows with certainty that he will have to answer them himself. Drew's method for transmitting a notion of rhythm is more direct; he beats out a percussive accompaniment on the desks as he chants a John Masefield poem, circling the startled children until they start to join in. There is something rosy-eyed about these scenes, something idealised about the responsiveness of the children and their ready seduction. But it's never entirely implausible ("'E's a'ead-the- ball, 'im," they would probably say, respectful, as children sometimes are, of a reckless eccentricity) and besides, we need this charge of hope. We need to get high on what might be achieved, before the fall that is to come.

Like all of Jimmy McGovern's writing, the script offers an unusual density of implication. The backgrounds aren't just theatrical flats, a minimal preservation of illusion. They actually enrich what happens in front of them. Returning from a difficult day, Drew finds his own children watching Blockbusters, and makes a wry comment on the televisual perfection of school-children.

In the staff-room, despairing, ignored monologues overlap with petty territorial disputes and the mundane chatter of organisation but you are shown as much as you are told; the close-ups of teachers working their way through the classified ads reveals that these are people who will consider anything and ends with an unknown hand circling the number for the Samaritans. A familiar image from prison films, that of identical food being served onto a production line of plates, colours the scenes that follow with a flavour of captivity. McGovern has arranged the film to flatter your sense of attentiveness, tucking telling details out of the way but making sure that they catch the corner of your eye.

His account of Drew is nicely ambiguous too, allowing you to see that there is something obtuse about his crusading passion, an element of self- regard. "Culture and tradition, fine, yeah," he says to Muslim parent, indignant that his timid child has become one of Drew's causes, "But they can be chains around people - know what I mean? Education is all about breaking chains." The melancholy truth offered by Hearts and Minds is that it is far easier for this tactless passion to go sour than it is for it to mature into wisdom. Drew takes his first step before the episode is over, succumbing to the cynical advice of a colleague and marking text books without bothering to read them. You see his three red ticks and think "Wrong, wrong, wrong".