With cases of young people committing suicide as a consequence of cyberbullying, increasing we take a look at writer-director Denise C Francis ‘B is for Bully’ a new educational film aimed at secondary school children.
Channel 4′s brilliant ‘Educating’ series has been one of the surprise television hits of the past 10 years. Using a fly on the wall style of filming the documentary, come reality programme, shows the everyday lives of staff and pupils at secondary schools all over the UK. The TV show first aired in 2011 and has run for five series with each series taking place in a different school. So far we have had Educating Essex, Educating Yorkshire, Educating The East End, Educating Cardiff and Educating Greater Manchester. Very soon we are certain to get another series educating somewhere else. The programme has been widely praised by critics and very popular with viewers winning a BAFTA and nominated for numerous other awards throughout it’s run.
Possibly inspired by these programmes, ‘B is for Bully’ builds on the BAFTA-winning template set out by its real-life counterparts and skilfully parodies them. As you’ll see, we’re traipsing down the well-trodden path of mockumentary territory here and while ‘Bully’ doesn’t quite hit a home run it does manage to steal a few bases and also hit you right between the eyes with a very important message.
Young people spend on average 11,000 hours of their lives in education, so school should be safe and free from bullying.
It’s the beginning of the term in, what remains for the next 50 minutes, an unnamed high school in an unnamed Welsh town and we are introduced to cheerful headteacher Mr. Dixon – a very David Brent-esque, well-spoken character, who is retiring at the end of the year. He gives us an insight into his philosophy which includes getting in early before battle commences in order to centre himself. He receives incredible joy from seeing the difference he and his staff of committed teachers make. Actor Peter Morgan Barnes has great fun with this role, channelling an older Michael McIntyre with a few Brentisms thrown in. Also in his office, we meet likeable deputy head Mr. Burton, a former tearaway pupil known as ‘bulldog’ who has turned over a new leaf and is gearing up to take over when Mr. Dixon finally retires.
The action then changes tack and focuses on new girl Paige Harris and her first day in school. A clever and witty student, Paige has just moved to the area. Pretty, bright-eyed and blonde she stands out from the crowd and immediately attracts the wrong sort of attention from the school bully. Suddenly the documentary team smell a story and begin to follow Paige around closely and what happens next are a lot of clashes between the pair as the bully pushes Paige’s buttons. In the beginning, Paige tries to fight off these barbs with good grace and humor however the bully starts to use social media to spread her videos and messages of hate and poison about Paige around the school and this wears Paige’s defences down quickly and so begins her downward spiral to physical and mental despair. Something that not even her best friend Adam can help her fight against.
Filmed as a real documentary, the cinematography by Chris Whitehouse and Daniel Harris is spot on. These type of educational mockumentaries live or die by their editing, thankfully that is also top notch from Adam Amor and Samantha Couzens. There are a number of cuts that really force home the despair of Paige’s situation. Particularly during an English class where the bully is insulting Paige in Shakespearean language; there are two cuts to Paige’s reactions that are completely heartbreaking, it may even be the same shot twice but it is no less affecting for it.
There are a lot of great things that happen during the film. The writing by director Denise C Francis is great and occasionally even laugh out loud funny, especially some of Mr. Dixon’s dialogue and Paige’s retorts. However, some of the performances are a mixed bag with a few actors coming across as limited and a little stilted in parts. Meanwhile, other characters are not fully fleshed out, remaining two dimensional, for example, I would have liked to have known more about the bully’s background and why she became a bully in the first place and these detract from the power somewhat.
However what cannot be understated is the sublime performance from Josephine Wilson in the lead role of Paige Harris. Her performance is so raw and natural that you can literally feel the pain she is going through simply by looking at her. From the moment she appears on camera she lights up the screen and we immediately start rooting for her. She has a hugely important monologue to deliver at the end of the film and the way she presents it is truly devastating. Not only does Wilson nail the speech but she exudes a charisma throughout the entire film that has star quality written all over it.
I would highly recommend that parents and schools get hold of a copy of this film and show it to their children, it has something very important to say about a fairly new but no less deadly problem and it says it with cleverness and humour that will be appreciated by everyone.
B Is For Bully is an excellent educational film that, thanks to Josephine Wilson’s stellar performance in the lead role, is elevated to lofty heights.