Gemma Creagh goes back to school for Neasa Ní Chianáin and David Rane’s observational documentary that follows a year in the lives of two inspirational teachers in the only primary-age boarding school in Ireland.
Nestled in the romantic Kells landscape, Headfort School is the last remaining boarding primary-age education facility for children in Ireland. Lead by leftie headmaster and ex-pupil Dermot Dix, this 18th Century Georgian house and its grounds provide a vast rural setting for kids to both learn and play and remains a space so nostalgically wonderful it would make Enid Blyton characters seethe with jealousy over lashings of raspberry jam.
The film’s narrative is focused around the charming, eccentric teaching couple, Amanda and John Leyden and their relationship with three of their students. Warm and playful as an educator, Amanda loves the arts and has returned to teach after a hiatus brought on by health issues. While staging a play about people staging Hamlet, she dedicates her time to helping Ted, a cheeky and charismatic eleven-year-old suffering from severe dyslexia.
Meanwhile her husband, John, doles out dry, sarcastic pearls of wisdom while he manages this year’s band. The benefits of bashing out cheesy rock and Ellie Goulding covers prove to be undeniable for the kids, especially as an outlet for the shy, academic Eliza, and allows newcomer Florence a chance to finally settle in at Headfort. It’s clear from Amanda and John’s interactions with these students that teaching is the true focus of this couple’s life (well, teaching and some very pampered dogs). As John says himself, “If we don’t come here what would we do all day? Just sitting around getting more and more decrepit.”
From shooting in the dormitories at night to recording in the homes of teachers, filmmaker Neasa Ní Chianáin and her partner and co-director, David Rane, have really managed to get an all-access pass to the school. So much so, that even their own daughter, who attended Headfort as a day pupil during the two years it took them to film In Loco Parentis, features in a few of the band scenes.
While this closeness with the subjects elicits intimacy and openness in every scene, one can’t help but think that there must be some less palatable stories that hit the edit suite floor. Life in an insanely expensive boarding school filled with upper-middleclass children, ponies, loving teachers, and fiscal resources couldn’t have been all that perfect. Right? Real life isn’t all fabulous forts and rope swings. #Jealousy #RaspberryJam
If this film left you wanting more of the gorgeous Headfort landscape and heartfelt drama, then don’t worry – the In Loco Parentis team are currently in negotiations with RTÉ about extending the film into a series.
In Loco Parentis screened on Monday, 20th February and Thursday, 23rd February 2017 at the Light House Cinema as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival.