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Good at Art (1983)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

A secondary school. Mr Coles, the conservative, ageing English art teacher, is retiring. The gift of a pencil drawing from favourite student Fariz provokes Mr Coles into a reflection on the craft and on wider, radical changes anticipated at the school's art department.

As predicted, the new art teacher, Salim, is different, a Pakistani concerned with emotional engagement with the students. Overcoming the initially racist response from most of his pupils, he exposes them to driven, modern artists and encourages them to draw out their emotions and put themselves into their own pictures. Salim is particularly interested in Fariz and his talent. Fariz is suspicious of him.

The opportunity to engage Fariz is provided by the get well card the students make for Mr Coles, who has suffered a heart attack. It is a mixed media collage, for which Fariz draws the head in pencil. Salim tries to get him to paint in oils. He also attempts to find out what Fariz thinks about the Indian subcontinent and whether he will return 'home'. Fariz keeps his distance by focusing on his art.

The hospitalised Mr Coles is distressed by the collage. Fariz's attention is drifting towards beautiful blonde fellow student, Kim. She is interested in his culture as well as his art. He is pleased when she asks him how to cook a proper curry and tells him that Salim thinks he is great.

Fariz is flattered and begins working on a portrait of Kim. Salim discovers the portrait in the class and is amazed by the quality. Salim shows it to the rest of the class, including Kim, who is touched. Kim opens up to Fariz later, hinting that she won't rule out an inter-racial relationship despite her parents' prejudice. Fariz is hopeful. Returning home, he is telephoned by Salim who reveals that Mr Coles has died of a second heart attack.

On the morning of Mr Coles' funeral, Fariz visits Salim's place. Salim is still getting ready. Fariz's portrait of Kim commands centre stage in the room. Fariz is flattered. As Salim returns upstairs to gets ready, Kim, in her dressing gown, walks down the stairs from the bedroom. Salim is embarrassed.

At the funeral it is raining as they bury Mr Coles.