A Teacher: the BBC’s dark new miniseries is a masterclass in grooming and abuse

A Teacher: the BBC’s new miniseries is a dark tale of grooming and abuse

Posted by for TV

The BBC’s new drama, A Teacher, tells the tale of a young woman who lures a student into a sexual relationship – as well as the consequences of her actions. 

2021 is going to be a brilliant year for TV. And, while Netflix undoubtedly reigned supreme in 2020, it seems the streaming platform is going to have some healthy competition come January from none other than the BBC.

We’ve already got The Serpent and Traces to get stuck into this month, and there are TV shows like Ridley Road, The Pursuit Of Love, Vigil, and Line Of Duty’s much-anticipated sixth season to look forward to as well.

And, on 3 January, the BBC dropped the first two episodes of A Teacher, too.

Here’s what you need to know about the controversial US miniseries.

What’s the plot of A Teacher?

The drama, which already aired in the US via FX on Hulu to favourable reviews, follows the story of Claire, a new teacher at Westerbrook High School in Texas.

A Teacher: House Of Cards actor Kate Mara stars as the eponymous teacher of the BBC series.
A Teacher: House Of Cards actor Kate Mara stars as the eponymous teacher of the BBC series.

Claire married her sweetheart straight out of college, and she’s grown dissatisfied with the slow and steady relationship. And so when one of her students begins to take an interest in her, she begins to revel in it.

Eric, you see, is the sort of teenager his classmates all aspire to be. He’s the captain of the soccer team, he’s popular, he’s handsome, and his life seems entirely perfect… on the surface, that is. Because, while he puts on a front, Eric is struggling to juggle the pressures of school, applying for college and a part-time job, all while helping take care of his two younger brothers.

At first, it seems as if the connection between student and teacher has nothing more than the makings of an innocent friendship. Over time, though, their relationship shifts, becoming something far more dangerous… and damaging.

Is there a trailer for A Teacher?

The BBC has released a trailer for A Teacher, which hints at the repercussions of Claire’s actions.

You can watch it for yourself below:

Who stars in the cast of A Teacher?

A Teacher boasts a star-studded cast, with House Of Cards actor Kate Mara taking the lead as Claire Wilson and Jurassic World star Nick Robinson as Eric.

You’s Marielle Scott, Succession’s Ashley Zukerman, and Snowpiercer’s Dylan Schmid also appear in the TV series.

And, as if that weren’t enough starpower for you, the main cast is rounded out by Shane Harper, Rya Kihlstedt, Adam David Thompson, Camila Perez, Cameron Moulène, Ciara Bravo, Charlie Zeltzer, and Devon Bostick, too.

What are people saying about A Teacher?

When A Teacher first aired in the US, it was met with generally favourable reviews thanks to its “purposefully disquieting and thoroughly disturbing” subject matter.

“It underscores how our gendered stereotypes are failing those who need protection most,” noted critic Roxana Hadadi at the time.

Alci Rengifo echoed this sentiment, saying: “This series understands how quickly bad decisions can develop into something toxic, and how even the most alluring predators can manipulate a sense of trust from their victims.”

And James Croot, meanwhile, reminded viewers that “A Teacher’s subject matter won’t be for everyone – it rightly comes with a grooming warning – but if you’re a fan of sensitively handled, superbly paced, suspense-filled drama, then you’ll likely be quickly hooked.”

A Teacher: the BBC miniseries will deal with the repercussions of Claire’s actions.
A Teacher: the BBC miniseries will deal with the repercussions of Claire’s actions.

Why has A Teacher sparked controversy on social media?

Croot was, of course, soon proven correct in his opinion: many viewers were left outraged by the events depicted in A Teacher, and took to Twitter in their droves to share their thoughts on it.

One tweeted: “A Teacher shows exactly how a predator works!! Any adult who is interested in a minor romantically is sick!! Grooming is slow and deliberate!”

And another added: “As a future teacher, I most certainly will NOT be watching or supporting this movie. Disgusting that these ‘relationships’ are being romanticised and fetishised for ratings and views when they are ruining lives and careers.”

Addressing these concerns, showrunner Hannah Fidell told Collider: “I hope that this show honestly creates a dialogue around [grooming and abuse], because I don’t think there’s a general awareness of it unless you’ve had maybe direct experience with sexual trauma in any way.

“The hope, and the intent while writing it, was that we wanted the audience to go along for the ride with Eric, so that they’re experiencing the entire pattern of abuse in the same way that he does – which is, at first, he doesn’t understand.”

Fidell added: “He’s enraptured by it. He doesn’t understand what’s happening. He doesn’t understand that she is completely doing something wrong. I don’t know if complicit is the right word, but it was important to me that the audience was on the same journey as Eric, emotionally.”

A Teacher: Kate Mara and Marielle Scott as Claire Wilson and Kathryn Sanders, respectively.
A Teacher: Kate Mara and Marielle Scott as Claire Wilson and Kathryn Sanders, respectively.

Speaking exclusively to Stylist, Siobhán Crawford, senior associate at law firm Bolt Burdon Kemp, adds: “Storylines like those in A Teacher are vital in changing the perception of sexual abuse at the hands of women. 

“Until very recently it seemed that women having sexual intercourse with adolescent boys was viewed more as a rite of passage than what it is – sexual abuse. These stereotypes have been reinforced in films such as The Graduate and Y Tu Mama Tambien. Whilst these harmful stereotypes exist, men and boys are less likely to report their abusers.”

Crawford continues: “Often, survivors are reluctant to come forward as they fear that they will not be believed. There is a belief that women in positions of trust are more likely to be believed over them.

“There is also something to be said for society’s view of women abusing children. The numbers of women who have been successfully prosecuted for abusing boys are woefully low. It may be that women are seen as nurturing caregivers and therefore it is not possible for them to be sexual predators. This is simply not the case.”

The lawyer finishes: “It is narratives like those in A Teacher and even EastEnders which are so important in changing societal views and values. Public perception has to change to see that sexual abusers can be women as well as men. Very often, it is not until television programmes reflect the reality of sexual abuse that people truly understand the devastating impact of the abuse and the fact that anyone can be an abuser, no matter what their gender or job.

“As these views change it will hopefully encourage men and boys who have been sexually abused by a woman to come forward and report their abuser safe in the knowledge that they will be believed.”

When is A Teacher coming to the BBC?

The miniseries debuted on BBC Two on Sunday 3 January 2021, with the first two episodes airing back to back from 10pm.

Sign up for the latest news and must-read features from Stylist, so you don't miss out on the conversation.

By entering my email I agree to Stylist’s Privacy Policy

Please note that this article was originally published on 22 December 2020, but has been updated throughout.

Images: BBC

Share this article

Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

Recommended by Kayleigh Dray