The Lesson is a mystery thriller, starring Daryl McCormack as an aspiring young writer who takes the role of a tutor for the son of his favourite author. As we begin to suspect why Daryl’s character took the job role, we’re led on a journey of lies and family history, not knowing where the end of the story might be.
Introduced to the deliciously accomplished couple J.M. and Hélène Sinclair, we’re quickly swept up into a world of privilege and class, knowing our place with McCormack’s patient Liam. Daryl has really started to forge his place in British films across the last year, starring opposite Emma Thompson in Katy Thompson’s Good Luck to You, Leo Grande which came out in 2022. He’s daring in his roles, sophisticated in his delivery and brings his charm and strength to The Lesson in a beautifully revealing way. We’re treated to dark performances from Julie Delphy and Richard E. Grant, but it’s Stephen McMillan, who plays their struggling son Bertie, who really stands out to prove himself against this line up.
Written by Alex MacKeith and directed by Alice Troughton, this talented pair create the perfect atmosphere for this story to take place. Between intense dialogue heavy evenings, and brooding staring through forbidden windows, we’re greeted with refreshing displays of wildlife in the garden lake. The bright morning light and nature’s song juxtaposes with the secrets spilling inside the family home, but we soon begin to realise that these innocent shots are hiding a lot more than just the animals that live below the surface.
The story flows between hope and growth to resentment and retribution, and I was left guessing how the characters would end up as we followed them on their group and individual arcs. As the trailer tells us, “great writers steal”, which incredibly sets up the style of the film and what we think may happen. As a fan of artists and creators, I can relate to Liam’s feelings in the decisions that lead him to his job in the Sinclair home. His copycat behaviour of his idol is cleverly written, wanting to prove his talent yet learn more about the man he craves to be like. Split into multiple parts, the story feels complete with questions and answers in satisfying ways, with shock and heavy suspense whilst watching. I love a good twist, and this one did not disappoint in its choices and reveals.
As the credits rolled, I was pleasantly surprised to see Isobel Waller-Bridge’s name credited for composing the film’s score. As always, she frames the story beautifully by enhancing the delicate feelings and looming in on the overarching elements that keep the audience hooked. Her music sits comfortably in the film, being joined by classical greats through the characters’ evening playlist. Every track has been chosen with care, to separate this high achieving family from Liam, the house staff, and even the viewer, making it a surprise for everyone when Liam is able to comment on the music choices.
After seeing the film at an early screening, I was excited to see a poster for the film at my local cinema. I really love the key art, even though (in my opinion) it makes it appear a lot scarier than it actually is, the brooding nature and dark take on a traditional family portrait suggesting what the people in the film long for and end up becoming. I’m really hoping to catch this film on the big screen again, and I recommend it to anyone craving an autumn mystery that’ll keep you intrigued long after you leave the cinema.