A special needs education teacher is having a special relation with one of his pupils by their common hobby: running. Until fate strikes.
After comedy (Leon The Pig Farmer) and horror (Beyond Bedlam), director Vadim Jean now tries his hand at that feelgood favourite, the classroom drama. And, rather like Channel 4s recent series Hearts And Minds, this throws an earnest newcomer teacher into an explosive blackboard jungle, lights the blue touch paper and stands well back.
Steve (Backbeats Hart) arrives at school for maladjusted children where there are plenty of TV-friendly faces on the staff. Indeed, John Alderton has been promoted from his Please Sir days to headmaster, while James Bolan and Nigel Planner shuffle about in fairly thankless support roles.
Steves introduction to the classroom is one little devil turning half the desks over, smashing a chair through the window, and running off. His pupils reckon poetry is girls stuff, but soon hes got their hearts racing by organising a cross-country club, which, by the look of things, the whole school seems to join. While romance looms between Steve and his attractive colleague Polly (Russell), his real obsession centres on an emotionally unstable pupil, Conrad (Conroy), whom he challenges to a 400 m race turning things rapidly into a kind of Chariots Of Fire for the 90s.
Much of this scenario, it must be said, is far from original, and Rob Woodruffs writing is less effective than, say, Jimmy McGoverns (who wrote the recent Priest). Also Jean, overdosing on the swelling score, veers toward manipulation with a slightly contrived Chariots style tear-jerking finale. Yet it is wonderfully emotive, pacily directed, and never looks less than great. If you can keep your cynicism in check, this is that rarest of breeds, a stirring British movie with a heart and mind all of its own.
After Beyond Bedlam, this is a welcome return to form for Vadim Jean