John Milton (Troye Sivan) is a weedy 13 year old boy from an ordinary background who wins a scholarship to a private boarding school in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa in 1990, where 'the Guv' (John Cleese) teaches English in his own unique way. Surrounded by boys with nicknames like Gecko (Jamie Royal), Rambo (Sven Ruygrok), Rain Man (Thomas Burne) and Mad Dog (Josh Goddard), Spud has his hands full trying to adapt to his new home. Along the way Spud makes friends with the sickness-prone Gekko (Jamie Royal) and takes his first tentative steps along the path to manhood. (The path it seems could be a rather long road). Armed with only his wits and his diary, Spud learns some key life lessons.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
His English teacher The Guv (John Cleese) gives him a copy of The Lord of the Rings ('the best book ever written'), then Waiting for Godot ('our absurd lives') and later Catch 22 ('it's about choice and not giving a damn what people think'). The latter is somewhat in response to Spud's admission that he can't go seducing the entire girls choir because he is only 'a spud' - the nickname he got in the showers when his fellow boarders at school laughed at his undersized willie.
We're in the world of John 'Spud' Milton, the 13 year old from a lower middle class family whose smarts have earned him a scholarship at a fancy South African boarding school full of rich kids. Told entirely from Spud's POV, with lots of his narration to fill us in on events we haven't seen or his thoughts and feelings, the film is an audio-visual diary of his first year at this school. The events range from the usual range of schoolboy pranks, peer pressure groups and the mysteries of girls, to some serious moments tougher to deal with.
The Guv is a constant presence, although his drinking causes him a marital breakdown, after which Spud gets less of his attention. Cleese makes this a colourful and engaging character, whose love of literature is framed in an outwardly gruff persona, within which hides a vulnerable and sensitive man. Spud takes notice.
Squeezed into the academic year is the inevitable school play, this time being a musical Oliver Twist - with all new music. Spud is cast as Oliver, and he triumphs - just as he overcomes the many smaller and larger obstacles along the way. In the background, South African history is being made with the release from prison of Nelson Mandela.
The last book The Guv hands John 'Spud' Milton - with the encouragement to keep reading - is the collected poems of John Milton.
The film struggles to find an even tone, swinging from overstatement and farcical to sentimental and earnest. But it strives to be a faithful adaptation of this popular novel and comes together well in the second half. Troye Sivan makes a vulnerable Spud, but he finds his voice and completes his hero's journey with a flourish and a bitter sweet final note.
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(Sth Africa, 2010)
CAST: John Cleese, Troye Sivan, Jamie Royal, Sven Ruygrok, Josh Goddard, Thomas Burne, Byron Langley, Travis Hornsby, Blessing Xaba, Aaron Mcilroy, Julie Summers, Jason Cope
PRODUCER: Ross Garland, Brad Logan
DIRECTOR: Donovan Marsh
SCRIPT: Donovan Marsh (novel by John van du Ruit)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Lance Gewer
EDITOR: Megan Gill
MUSIC: Ed Jordan
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Tom Gubb
RUNNING TIME: 107 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Pinnacle Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 19, 2012
RIVERSIDE SCREEN PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 6 consecutive Tuesdays, starts February 17, 2015 at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.