Maybe you haven’t heard, but July 15th sees the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. At the start of the series, Harry was left on the steps of #4 Privet Drive, and in the seven books since he’s enrolled at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, made some friends (and some rivals), discovered his arch enemy, found (and lost) his beloved godfather, become a central figure in the resistance against said arch enemy, witnessed the death of his mentor, gotten into some fights and done some camping, all while learning how to use magic.
For everyone who has followed Harry on his journey, the release of this final movie is a momentous event. While the emotional core of the series is the bond Harry shares with his two best friends, Ron and Hermione, that isn’t the most memorable part of the series. No, the most memorable character just might be Hogwarts itself. With its magical moving staircases, ghosts-in-residence and talking portraits (not to mention Quidditch), Hogwarts is one awesome boarding school. Sure, there are some downsides: There’s a lethal tree on campus and a basilisk in the basement, plus the school more or less runs on slave labor (house elves, anyone?). Hogwarts may not be a perfect boarding school, but it’s certainly the coolest. So to honor Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, MovieMaker presents Boarding Schools of the Movies: Superlatives.
if. . . (1968)
directed by Lindsay Anderson
Students at some of the other boarding schools on this list are forced into servitude (Miss Minchin’s School for Girls, A Little Princess), denied freedom of expression (Welton Academy, Dead Poets Society) or practically starved (Lowood School for Girls, Jane Eyre), but it’s only at College House that students receive headmaster-sanctioned beatings courtesy of their classmates. The school’s administrators take a hands-off approach to running the school, giving a group of upperclassmen (known as “Whips”) free reign to maintain discipline as they see fit. Under the rule of the sadistic Rowntree, new students who fail to memorize the school’s lingo are beaten, younger students known as “scabs” have to cater to the Whips’ every whim, and upperclassman Mick Travis (Malcolm McDowell) is brutally caned for nothing more than giving Rowntree too much cheek. But Travis gets the last laugh: He and his friends gun down Whips, classmates, faculty, parents and alumni alike using a cache of weapons they discovered while cleaning out the school’s basement.
Au revoir les enfants (1987)
directed by Louis Malle
The French boarding school in Au revoir les enfants does more than just educate its students. Inside the school, there are Latin lessons and games of Capture the Flag. Outside, there’s World War II. Like many other movie boarding schools, the school in Au revoir les enfants has a secret. Unlike many other movie boarding schools, though, this school’s secret is neither sordid nor sadistic: Three of the students are Jewish refugees who have been given false identities to keep them from being discovered by the Nazis. The movie, based on real events from Malle’s childhood, centers on the relationship between one of the Catholic students, Julien Quentin, and Jean Bonnet, real name Jean Kippelstein. The boys start out as rivals, but became close friends after Julien discovered Jean’s secret. Though the school seems idyllic, the movie ends on a sad note. The school’s kitchen boy, upset at being fired for his role in the school’s black market trade of jam and other prohibited foodstuffs, tips the Nazis off to the presence of the Jewish students. The students are taken to concentration camps, the headmaster is arrested and the school, which was a respite from the horrors of World War II, is shut down. Thanks, Hitler.
Dead Poets Society (1989)
directed by Peter Weir
You can’t exactly be a free spirit in a boarding school, but some are better than others as far as encouraging individuality and freedom of expression. Welton Academy is not one of them. Other boarding schools crack down hard on cigarettes and alcohol, but at Welton Academy, the mere act of starting a poetry club is so controversial that it gets one teacher fired and nearly leads to the expulsion of several students. When English teacher John Keating (Robin Williams) encourages his students to express their individuality by appreciating the verse of Walt Whitman and Robert Frost (those most controversial of poets), one of his adherents takes the whole individuality thing a bit too far and sneaks an article about how Welton should be co-ed into the school newspaper. The headmaster views the harmless prank as an unpardonable offense, and the student is beaten. This might seem like an overreaction on the part of the headmaster, but the movie as a whole is incredibly melodramatic. For example, when another student is told by his father that he must abandon his dream of becoming an actor, his response is to stare mournfully out the window into the falling snow for a few minutes before shooting himself with his father’s gun. Afterward, as his classmates’ tears are set to a stirring classical score, not one person steps forward to suggest that suicide might be something of an extreme response to being shipped off to military school.
A Little Princess (1995)
directed by Alfonso Cuarón
Miss Minchin (Eleanor Bron) is a teacher who hates children. That’s not exactly an uncommon theme in children’s books and movies, but usually it’s played for laughs. Even Matilda‘s Agatha Trunchbull, sadistic and physically abusive as she is, provides some chuckle-worthy lines of dialogue. The headmistress of Miss Minchin’s School for Girls, however, is a cold, humorless woman who intimidates and emotionally abuses her own sister just as she does her students. When Sara Crewe comes to board at Miss Minchin’s school, the headmistress’ unmotivated dislike of the young girl is plain from the start. But since Sara’s beloved father, Captain Crewe, is rich, Miss Minchin can’t be as cruel toward Sara as she’d like… that is, until Captain Crewe dies in the trenches of WWI, leaving Sara penniless and dependent on Miss Minchin’s charity. Then the gloves come off.
Miss Minchin demotes Sara to the status of a servant, takes all her belongings (including her clothes and toys) to make up for the school’s “financial losses,” forces her to live in a mouse-infested room in the attic, prohibits the students (i.e. Sara’s friends) from talking to her, frequently threatens to throw her out on the street (“Believe me, Sara, the streets of this city are not kind to homeless beggars.”) and, in a coup de grace, sics the police on her after she “steals” a locket that belonged to her own mother. But all doesn’t end well for the hateful headmistress. It turns out that Captain Crewe is actually still alive, just blind, amnesia-ridden and, er, living next door to the school. Oops. Miss Minchin loses her school and has to eke out a living as a chimney sweep, working for a young boy whom she refused to pay earlier in the movie because he got soot on her shoe. Oh, and her much-abused sister defies her wishes and elopes with the milkman. If only evil were punished so thoroughly in real life.
X-Men trilogy (2000, 2003, 2006)
directed by Brian Singer (X-Men and X2) and Brett Ratner (X-Men: The Last Stand)
Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters has some things in common with your traditional boarding school: A diverse group of students. Rivalries and friendships. Classes and lectures. A British headmaster. The major difference is that the X-Mansion (as it’s known) isn’t just a place where teenage mutants can go to get an education, discover their potential and escape anti-mutant prejudice. No, it’s also the training site and base of operations for Professor Xavier’s X-Men. Unlike the Brotherhood of Mutants, led by Xavier’s arch-enemy Magneto, the X-Men seek a peaceful relationship between mutants and non-mutants. That doesn’t mean they don’t need fighter jets and heavy weaponry, though, and where better to store them than underneath the school? And if students at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters don’t face enough peril while they’re matriculating, well, there’s always the option of going straight from graduation to joining the X-Men. They don’t even have to move their stuff!
Being a few feet above the X-Men’s base of operations does have its advantages, though: In X2, when William Stryker (Brian Cox) orders that the students at the Academy be abducted, the presence of secret passageways and teachers trained in hand-to-hand combat meant that most of them get away safely. Just imagine, your average boarding school would be completely defenseless against a military raid!
directed by Jordan Scott
In Cracks, Miss G (Eva Green) makes sure her students have a sound knowledge of Latin, arithmetic, world history—no, wait, when she’s not telling them stories of her many adventures in Africa and India, she teaches them trampoline jumping and skinny dipping. Though the school in Cracks looks like traditional English boarding school, it appears to have no classes or exams, and it’s mentioned several times that the students rarely end up going home to their families. It’s implied, though never explicitly stated, that the school exists to serve as a place where parents can send their delinquent daughters. Officially, Miss G’s only role seems to be that of the diving coach, but it’s not surprising that she’s unqualified to be a teacher, as she herself is a student who never ended up leaving the school. All of Miss G’s stories are taken word-for-word from books, which causes some problems when the new student Fiamma—the only one who doesn’t worship the glamorous Miss G—has read one of the books she’s plagiarizing. It’s all downhill from there.
Never Let Me Go (2010)
directed by Mark Romanek
“Wow, this Hailsham place seems like a nice, normal boarding school. All the students are so neat and tidy in their uniforms, and everyone seems so robust! Of course, most boarding school matrons don’t guilt trip the students quite so much when a few cigarettes are found on campus—but Miss Emily’s just taking an interest in her students’ health! The way she talks about the students being ‘special,’ though, that’s kind of weird. None of the students ever seem to have ever left the school, either–they don’t even know how to order drinks at a diner. And what’s with that wrist-scanning device and all the pills they have to take? Why don’t any of them have last names? What’s Miss Lucy saying about ‘donations’. . .?
“Ohhhh. All the students are clones, created for the express purpose of donating their vital organs once they reach adulthood. Hailsham sucks.”
Jane Eyre (2011)
directed by Cary Fukunaga
In the case of Jane Eyre’s Lowood School for Girls, “Worst Amenities” really means “Highest Number of Students Dead Due to Completely Preventable Diseases,” and no wonder. The school is owned by Mr. Brocklehurst, a clergyman who uses his religious beliefs as an excuse to provide his students with freezing rooms, thin clothing and practically inedible food, even though his own family lives in comparative luxury. Lowood’s appalling living conditions results in an outbreak of typhus. Mr. Brocklehurst’s hypocrisy (and dirt-poor management skills) are eventually uncovered, and conditions at the school improve, but not before Jane’s only friend dies of consumption. Maybe the Hailsham students in Never Let Me Go didn’t have it so bad, after all. They’re indentured organ donors, sure, but at least they won’t die of consumption before hitting puberty.