Spud – the Movie

| April 4, 2011

Reviewed by Portia Mngomezulu

Produced by Ross Garland and directed by Donovan Marsh, the real star of this movie is majestic Michaelhouse School. Based on the famous series authored by John van de Ruit, Spud – the Movie is set in the early 1990s at this top KwaZulu-Natal boys-only boarding school. At the time, Mandela was to be released from prison and people were happy but also restless (especially Spud’s dad), not knowing what to expect.

The movie takes us on John Milton’s journey: he’s a young Afrikaner boy from a working-class family who wins a scholarship to study at posh Michaelhouse. While his dad is as pleased as punch, John is terrified. On the first day of term, John’s parents pull up in their rather old and rusted car to be met with a sudden silence and stares from all the other parents.

In the showers the next morning, the new boy must endure further embarrassment: his naked appearance earns him the diminutive nickname ‘Spud’. Despite the bad treatment, Spud is determined to fit in with his dorm mates and, after enduring dreadful initiations, he is finally accepted as part of the ‘Crazy Eight’ crowd, comprising
Rambo the domineering; fragile and allergic Gecko; Fatty, who holds the farting championship award; Boggo the sex addict; Mad Dog; Vern and Simon.

Together, they get up to all sorts of mischief to make school life tolerable. Alcoholic teacher ‘The Guv’ is played by John Cleese, whose performance is both hilarious and moving. The Guv takes Spud under his wing and helps him to believe in himself and to go after his dream of being an actor. Spud’s perseverance lands him a lead role in the school play.

Back home, Spud’s father is obsessed with the idea that Nelson Mandela’s release will mean the start of World War III. He barricades his house and prepares for the worst. In the mist of all that, Spud comes back home for the holidays, meets a girl with whom he immediately falls in love with and nicknames her ‘the Mermaid’.

I found that the movie enlightens us parents, as it provides realistic occurrences and information about the actual boarding school experience beyond teaching hours. The glossy brochures and websites only tell us what we parents want to hear about the school and, as a mother, I appreciated the honesty portrayed in the film – especially when it comes to initiations. Now that I’ve had a glimpse of what really happens, I feel that I’ve been afforded an opportunity to consider carefully whether I
should, in the near future, decide to send my son to such a school.

At times in the movie, the school atmosphere felt more like a military camp than a school, which I think is a bit much for kids. I’m all for discipline, but children need a conducive environment to develop confidence and emotional intelligence, which will later help them integrate easily back into society when they finish school.
In summary, from a parent’s perspective, you get to discover a lot about life in boarding school in this movie, and you’ll find yourself chuckling now and again throughout.

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Category: Autumn 2011, Book Reviews

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