Film review:
My Old School

A brilliant documentary about a jaw dropping deception

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The extraordinary story of a 32-year-old man who successfully passed himself off as a 16-year-old student is brought vividly to life in the documentary My Old School (from 19 August, selected cinemas regionwide). 

In 1993, 16-year-old Brandon Lee turned up at Bearsden Academy to finish his studies in the hope of one day progressing on to medical school. At first his fellow classmates were a little suspicious of the strange, clean-cut lad, who dressed in a blazer and seemed to have an answer for everything. Eventually though he gained their trust and became a popular and high-achieving student, even taking the lead role in a high school musical. But then a secret was revealed that shocked the school and the well-to-do Glaswegian community around it. 

Debut feature director Jono McLeod has crafted an excellent “truth is stranger than fiction” story here, the backbone of which is Lee’s own testimony as he recounts his side of the story. He didn’t want to appear on film though, so Alan Cumming lip-syncs to Lee’s voiceover, giving a nuanced and captivating performance of the mysterious man. But the show stealers in the film are Lee’s former classmates, many of whom appear. Their stories about school life and local gossip are full of warmth and humour, and in some cases, sadness as one man, bullied at school because of his skin colour, recalls how Lee helped him both in his studies and social life. Clever use of animation fleshes out many of these stories and there’s a brilliant soundtrack incorporating some of the best and worst music from the era to boot. 

Part of the fun in watching this film comes from the slow reveal of truth, as layer by layer Lee’s lies are exposed. Even some of the interviewees have moments of shock as another twist in the tale is uncovered. The initial question that keeps the viewer hooked is why Lee returned to a school he had left years before in the first place. But once this is revealed, more questions bubble to the surface. The overall effect is fun and playful, and even though many questions about what went on are answered, by the time the credits roll the viewer is left with some lingering doubts as to what really went on. 

And beneath it all is a poignant tale about class divide and the lengths someone might go to to escape their past and rewrite their own history. 

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