The film is about a primary school teacher’s relationship with a driving instructor, from whom she receives lessons. Thirty years old and single, Pauline “Poppy” Cross (Sally Hawkins) shares a London flat with her best friend Zoe (Alexis Zegerman), a fellow teacher.
Poppy is free-minded, high-spirited and kind-hearted. The film opens with Poppy trying to engage a shop employee in conversation.He blatantly ignores her, yet his icy demeanour does not bother her. She maintains her good mood even when she discovers her bicycle has been stolen. Her main concern is not getting a new one or finding the bicycle, but that she did not get a chance to say goodbye to it.
This prompts her to decide to learn how to drive. When Poppy takes driving lessons for the first time, her positive attitude contrasts starkly with her gloomy, intolerant and cynical driving instructor, Scott (Eddie Marsan). He is emotionally repressed, has anger problems and becomes extremely agitated by Poppy’s casual attitude towards driving.
As Poppy gets to know him, it becomes evident that Scott believes in conspiracy theories. His beliefs are partly attributable to his racist and misogynistic views, which make it hard for him to get along with others.
Scott seems to be angered by Poppy’s sunny personality and what he perceives as a lack of responsibility and concern for driving safety. Scott is exceptionally irritated by Poppy’s choice of footwear (a pair of high-heeled boots), which he feels compromises her ability to drive. From the outset he feels Poppy does not take her lessons seriously and is careless.
The single best overall performance is perhaps that by Eddie Marsan as the scarily intense Scott, Poppy’s driving instructor, whose deep-seated, smoldering anger at the world reflects a tightly wound mental state 180 degrees opposite that of his student. Confined together in the small space of Scott’s car, an explosion seems always but a hair-trigger’s pull away.
Definitely, the single best scene, the one that had the audience in stitches, is played by Karina Fernandez as a Flamenco teacher, when she attempts to describe to and inculcate in her class of adult students the passion necessary for the dance. Talk about meltdown!
The conflict, if it can be called such, of the story comes as Poppy’s happy-go-luckiness scrapes up against the unhappy lives and internal turmoil of others: the mentally unstable derelict she encounters under a bridge in a bleak industrial section of the city, her pregnant and subliminally unhappy younger sister, a bullying and disturbed boy in her class, and, above all, Scott. As the last scene fades into the film credits, the viewer is left wondering if Poppy’s felicitous worldview will survive life.
Character to watch: Sally Hawkins as Poppy.
Journal your answers to the following questions after you watch the movie.
- How does this particular character’s journey compare with yours?
- Did the character develop certain characteristics during the movie that you have or that you would like to have? If so, what are those characteristics?
- What obstacles did this character face? What was his or her biggest challenge?
- What would you have done differently if you had been in the same position as the character?
- Is this character the type of person you would be friends with? Why or why not?