A Teacher is streaming now on BBC iPlayer.
Based on her 2013 movie of the same name, Hannah Fidell expands her original story of a teacher/pupil affair into a mini-series for FX, with mixed results. While the TV version manages to broaden the film’s narrative as promised by exploring the affair’s outcomes for both the student (Nick Robinson) and teacher (Kate Mara), it also feels at times confused in its core messages.
Claire (Mara) has just joined the teaching team at a high school in Austin, where Eric (Robinson) is a senior. The new young teacher is immediately a focal point of attention within Eric’s social circle; their conversations a mix of male bravado, imaginary conquest and sexualised play that make Eric feel uncomfortable despite his silence on the matter. However, following a chance encounter in a local coffee shop, Claire agrees to mentor and support Eric through his exams as the boundaries between both student and teacher blur in a haze of flirtatious energy. As time passes, these loose professional boundaries fall away, and Claire and Eric enter into a passionate, consensual but confusing affair.
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Despite the effort taken to flesh out the movie’s narrative, A Teacher struggles to connect with its audience on a deeper level, despite the outstanding performances of Robinson and Mara. Here A Teacher fails to fully explore the motivations of Mara while equally treating Robinson’s character with kid gloves. The result is a drama that lacks both substance and time as events unfold in short 25-minute episodes. This flaw is confusing given TV’s ability to build complex narrative arcs. Here the choice of a short episodic structure creates a vacuum at the heart of the story, which never allows you to build a solid connection to the core characters.
However, this is far from being the only problem at the heart of A Teacher, with the final three episodes also feeling deeply problematic on several levels. Here attempts to explore themes of guilt, coercion and judgement steer clear of any risky or insightful commentary around teacher/student relationships, the nature of coercion, and the abuse of position even with older young people. This creates a mixed and confusing statement on the affair at the heart of the show, which leaves the viewer with a feeling of incompleteness as Robinson and Mara separate only to meet again year’s later for another unresolved discussion.