‘The Teacher’ is the new first class drama

Monday:The Teacher; (Channel 5, 9pm)

By Claire Cartmill
Sunday, 30th January 2022, 5:00 pm

With two Olivier awards and a Bafta to her name, Sheridan Smith is one of Britain’s most popular and successful actresses, so bagging her for the lead role in the new four-part drama The Teacher, which is stripped across the week, is something of a coup for Channel 5.

However, it’s not just the channel that benefits as it also gives Sheridan a very meaty role as troubled teacher Jenna – and she believes destiny may have had a hand in her landing the part.

She says: “We’d all been in lockdown, I’d had my son and I’d been reading lots of different scripts.

“Then this one came along and I was gripped. Jenna is such a complex character, there are so many layers to her…

“All these twists and turns came along in the story that I did not expect, and I couldn’t put it down, which is rare – I read it all in one go.

“I really wanted to do the show – initially the dates weren’t working, but I couldn’t stop thinking about this script.

“Things moved around so it didn’t clash anymore, and it felt like a sign.”

Sadly, things aren’t going quite so well for her character, as Jenna’s life outside the classroom is very much crumbling.

Sheridan explains: “She’s got a drink problem, she’s lost her mum, has a really strained relationship with her dad and she has just gone off the rails and lost herself a bit.

“When she finishes work, she clocks out and has a chaotic life.”

Jenna is popular in the classroom, but that can also lead to futher problems.

Sheridan says: “I think she is a bit naïve.

“She’s on a mission to save working-class kids because that’s where her mum comes from, and she really hates the fact that privileged kids can get further in life.

“She tries to be a mate to her students, which is her undoing in the end. There are teacher-student boundaries and she has maybe let that slip.”

The question of just how many boundaries Jenna has crossed is at the heart of the drama as, after a drunken night out to celebrate a promotion, the teacher is accused of sleeping with a 15-year-old student, Kyle (Samuel Bottomley).

But is she guilty? Sheridan is hoping to keep the viewers guessing: “I always want to make a character likeable because I want to find the heart in them, no matter how flawed someone is, but I do want the audience to doubt Jenna and to feel unsure about where they stand, it’s exciting to play that in a role.”

She adds: “Hopefully there will be lots of people not knowing if they trust me as Jenna – there are bits where it looks like I could be quite sinister… I hope there are a lot of conversations about whether she is guilty, especially as all the twists and turns come out, it gets so complicated and dark.

“I just can’t wait for the audience to see it. I really enjoyed filming it and I’m so pleased it’s finally coming out.”

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