TV Review: Boarders, BBC Three

TV Review: Boarders, BBC Three

I've been meaning to write about Boarders since I first saw the opening episode but it's taken me a while to process it. I was expecting a silly, frothy rites-of-passage version of Bad Education with a little bit of politics lobbed in but what I've seen so far is very different. Daniel Lawrence Taylor, previously best known for the time travel jazz comedy Timewasters, has come up with something very different, very striking here.

Boarders is loosely inspired by the true story a few years ago of underprivileged students getting scholarships to a top public school. In Boarders Femi (Aruna Jalloh), Jaheim (Josh Tedeku), Leah (Jodie Campbell), Omar (Myles Kamwendo), and Toby (Sekou Diaby) are invited to join elite (fictional) school St Gilberts that needs to clean up its act after a recent clip of them bullying a homeless man went viral.

So far so straightforward. I settled down to watch this expecting some lightweight culture clash Inbetweeners comedy but got something very different. Funny yes, but in places also very hard-hitting – often literally. Daniel Lawrence Taylor has no problems portraying the privileged posh kids as pretty awful and even violent. Not necessarily all of them, but definitely a chunk. While some of them fit in better than others, overall the newbies quickly face obstacles, some predictable, some less expected.

The main storyline in the openingh scene-setter finds Jaheim on the receiving end of some vicious treatment from other sixth formers. I was surprised quite how vicious this was, but I guess the series wants to make an impact and make a point. Writing as someone who also had a scholarship to an upmarket school and used to carry his books in a plastic shopping bag where others had leather briefcases there are plenty of moments that, well, if they didn't actually trigger me they did touch a nerve. Just to reassure you I think I emerged relatively undamaged. I don't think I harboured too many Saltburn-style revenge fantasies. 

The performances here are uniformly strong and there are some nice gags, such as the objection to using the word 'master' for teachers because it has too many slavery echoes. It's not necessarily all about race and class though. There are also subplots – romance, rivalries – that could have come from Grange Hill. 

The first epsiode is a strong start to the series which might be hard to sustain. Do the new kids ease in or stick out? Do they get their own inner city mates over to right some wrongs? Do they quit and refuse to be a PR tool for the school's image? You'll have to stay around for the rest of term-time to see.

Boarders,Tuesdays, 9pm, BBC Three and iPlayer.

Pictured: L-R: Femi (Aruna Jalloh), Jaheim (Josh Tedeku), Leah (Jodie Campbell), Omar (Myles Kamwendo), and Toby (Sekou Diaby). Image: BBC/Studio Lambert



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