By Jon Hewitt

“I know the world’s changing,” says Mr. Arthur Chipping to the headmaster in one of the most unforgettable scenes in the 1939 schoolroom classic, Goodbye, Mr. Chips. “I’ve seen the old traditions die, one by one. Grace, dignity, feeling for the past – all that matters here today is a fat banking account. You’re trying to run the school like a factory, for turning out money-making machine-made snobs. You’ve raised the fees. And in the end, the boys who really belong at Brookfield will be frozen out, frozen out. Modern methods, intensive training – poppycock! Give a boy a sense of humour and a sense of proportion and he’ll stand up to anything. I’m not going to retire; you can do what you like about it.”

As the decent, student-focused teacher (the Mr. Chips of the title), Robert Donat (The 39 Steps, The Citadel, The Count Of Monte Cristo) defined the self-sacrificing and inspiring teacher figure in cinema that can be tracked all the way through to Sidney Poitier in To Sir, With Love and Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society. In this extraordinary film about a shy and committed schoolmaster in an English public school who finds unexpected love and personal liberation in the shape of Greer Garson, Donat is the educator that every student would love to have. “As soon as I put the moustache on, I felt the part, even if I did look like a great Airedale Terrier come out of a puddle,” the actor once said of the role.

Being a 1930’s drama, tragedy will of course ensue, but it’s evoked in an understated and poised way that is all the more overwhelming for it. Remade several times (most notably in 1969 with Peter O’Toole in the title role), Goodbye, Mr. Chips is an object lesson in emotional filmmaking that is yet to be bettered. It’s an incredibly moving cinema experience about the relationship between children and adults and how they can influence and change one another. Donat won a Best Actor Oscar for a performance full of nuance and emotional weight in a film that delivers the same. Unmissable!


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