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Ahead of the Class (2005)

Drama based on real-life events. Marie Stubbs, a diminutive Glaswegian headmistress who is coming up to retirement age, takes on one last challenge: to improve the fortunes of St George's ... See full summary »



(adaptation), (book)
1 win & 2 nominations. See more awards »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Marie Stubbs
Trudy Gower (as N'Deaye Ba)
Sean Devlin
Sonia Venning
Tomas Moreira
Stuart Stiles
Tracey O'Leary
Graham Ranger
Tony Mackersie
Frances Gold ...
Amy Jo Lamb ...
Debbie Campbell
Jason Foley (as Callum McNab)
Heshima Thompson ...
Dan Anthony ...
Tina Asihene ...


Drama based on real-life events. Marie Stubbs, a diminutive Glaswegian headmistress who is coming up to retirement age, takes on one last challenge: to improve the fortunes of St George's School in north west London which was facing closure after the notorious murder of its previous headmaster, Philip Lawrence, in 1995 as he was breaking up a fight between his pupils and those from a rival school. Written by Anonymous

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


The Story Of Teaching, Transformation And Triumph







Release Date:

30 January 2005 (UK)  »

Also Known As:

La principale  »

Filming Locations:


Company Credits

Production Co:

,  »
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Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.78 : 1
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User Reviews

Passable. No distinction. But at least tells the viewer a story that needed to be told.
26 September 2017 | by See all my reviews

Not a great work of TV. Somewhat humdrum & predictable. And a rather middle-aged "Miss Jean Brodie" of a performance, by Julie Walters. Not her best work by any means.

Sadly the film is all a bit 'by rote'. All the previous films about the ups & downs of teaching at a tough school have had the same plot references. (See 'Dangerous Minds' / 'To Sir, with Love'/ 'Blackboard Jungle'.) The moments in the sun or shade for the head teacher – and the unenviable task ahead of her, to turn around the school's fortune – are made far too predictable within this drama. So the film lacks any originality or real 'zip'. Which is a shame, as it is the keenly individual approach of the real-life head teacher that brought about the impressive changes that she made to the school's fate. These master strokes are what made the real Mrs Stubbs prevail at the school.

So we do not see exactly HOW Mrs Stubbs managed to bring about such a turnaround. Those details would have been better included, as they are the means by which she succeeded in her undertaking. Instead we just see the superficial emotions she goes through. All well & good, but seeing the manoeuvres Marie Stubbs had to take to get the school to a passable Ofsted standard & beyond, would have given the production more depth.

The rest of the cast's roles are not explored in sufficient detail. And when the teachers decide to rally round at the last minute – to rescue the headmistress's school dance initiative from failure – the moment feels like a scene from a feel-good movie of the worst kind. And certain other parts – such as the subplot of the disgruntled teachers conniving against the headmistress in the staffroom – were also ridiculously thin. Only Tony Slattery, as the music teacher, has a scene of any depth. He acts it well but again, in the poor timing and lack of lead-up to the scene, the effect is too saccharine – and unlikely – a moment. We need to know exactly how events led up to the character's change of stance towards the head teacher's approach at the school, but we are not told. Too many scenes in the film, sadly, are reminiscent of a superficial – and cheaply made – American TV movie.

No doubt many of the actors & other production staff chose to be involved in this film as they wanted to put forward this story, as a positive update on the real-life tragic events of 1995. After all, I myself still remember with vivid freshness – 2 decades later, in 2017 – the shock of the news of what had happened to Philip Lawrence, the then head teacher of the school. So just 10 years after Mr Lawrence's violent death, when this film was made in 2005, the UK would have remembered Mr Lawrence's death with even fresher horrifying shock. Emotions were still vibrant years after the stabbing of the previous head teacher occurred. So the cast & team would have gone with the prevailing shape of the production, in order to tell this tale & to put some positivity on past events. The changes the real Mrs Stubbs brought to the school, after it seemed to be losing all its spirit following Mr Lawrence's death, were indeed uplifting. But sadly a token gesture by a production team, of making a positive-spin TV movie, meant that a true opportunity was lost. The film could have been a faithful depiction of the groundbreaking measures Mrs Stubbs exacted at the school, and given us insight into the mind of a determined educationalist & the team she had working with her.

And I fear this was a rather one-dimensional & unrealistic characterisation of the real Marie Stubbs. Far too by-the-numbers a portrayal by Julie Walters, with the repeated bobbing of her head along with the angelic smile she offers as she utters yet another rather banal line. And every character who crosses the lady's path seems to succumb to her persistent emoting of a mixture of firm iron will + kindly wisdom. From parent, to pupil, to Ofsted inspector. They all seem to respond in exactly the same way – positively & immediately – to her saintly sagacity! An unlikely uniformity of response. Although of course, in this, Ms Walters' adaptation was possibly largely at the hands of the scriptwriters & production team.

A selection of rather tartan ladies suits as her attire just adds to this feeling that we are seeing a caricature of the real Mrs Stubbs. At moments I felt I was watching a mishmash of "Jean Brodie" plus fragments of a boisterous but stressed headmistress of an unruly "St Trinian's" school!

In all honesty, I believe this portrayal cannot have done many favours to the real Marie Stubbs, who is no doubt – with the jobs she has held in her life – a more complex person; and whose methods in the task she took on would have been less prosaic than those we saw in this production.

Sadly, it is possibly the limited timeline this drama offers – just 1 1⁄2 hours – that is the reason we do not see the full trials & tribulations that this lady went through.

In all honesty, I reckon the book that this TV drama is based on would be a better read, than this production is a viewing.

But as a way of telling people the story of these real-life events, especially as a move towards a heartening future after the tragic events of 1995, the drama serves a good purpose. Reaching people through the means of the living room TV is always a good option. And as the real Mrs Stubbs' efforts at the school are to be praised, at least this TV production manages to put across that much of the facts.

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