In a nutshell: Don’t let the elementary school setting or large child-actor cast fool you. This drama takes a dark dive into group psychology and the human psyche, with bullying scenes so intense they almost need a warning. (If you’ve ever been bullied, those scenes will cut to the bone.) We follow a bright and bubbly sixth grader, trying to survive the year despite her cruel teacher’s best efforts to break her. But is her teacher really the witch her nickname suggests? Or are there good motivations hidden beneath her foreboding exterior? The drama keeps the students and the viewers guessing. And the final reveal is compelling and thought provoking without whitewashing or undermining what has come before. Based off a Japanese Drama of the same name, this is a tightly told, highly satisfying, addictive watch. Definitely a must-see.
The Students: The sixth grade setting is perfect for the story being told. In the process of leaving childish things behind, the students are preparing for adulthood. About to start the intense academic race that will determine their schooling and their career, puberty just sinking its hormonal hooks in, they’re already in a volatile place and ripe for manipulation.
Our protagonist is Shim Ha-na (Kim Hyang-gi).
She’s friendly and outgoing, the mood-making youngest daughter of her middle-class family, eager for her last year of elementary school to be all about friendship and creating happy memories.
Ha-na’s best friend, Go Na-ri (Lee Young-yoo), is a classic queen-bee — popular, political, powerful.
Her parents are part of Korea’s wealthy elite, her mother runs the parents’ association with a Versace-clad iron fist, and Na-ri has been raised to follow in her mother’s well-heeled footsteps.
The thorn in Ha-na’s side is class clown, Oh Dong-goo (Chun Bo-geun).
Outgoing and awkward, he expresses his long-time crush on Ha-na via the usual boy-methods of clumsy pranks and teasing. Oblivious to how much he annoys those around him, Dong-goo is always ready with a bad quip or comic routine to “entertain” his fellow classmates.
Someone Ha-na would like to become friends with is school legend, and self-contained loner, Kim Seo-hyun (Kim Sae-ron).
Her high intelligence could easily segue into a leadership position. But Seo-hyun’s personal preference is to avoid social interaction or classroom politics and stick to being an aloof observer. She’s the first to recognize Teacher Ma’s manipulations.
And then there’s Eun Bo-mi (Seo Shin-ae), the class wallflower.
Not so much bullied as neglected, she’s friendless and powerless and chronically overlooked. Until Teacher Ma arrives and begins shaking up the status quo.
Teacher Ma: Also known as, Witch Ma (Ko Hyun-jung), her arrival coincides with a massive thunderstorm.
The steady clicking of her practical heels warns of her approach… except for those times when she’s suddenly just there. Cruel, merciless, demanding and domineering, she’s like an anti-Mary Poppins. There’s something unworldly about her, from her extensive knowledge of her students to the way she seems to be everywhere — no matter the time, no matter the location.
She takes full advantage of her authority and power, manipulating her classroom like a master puppeteer, turning her students against each other, making their lives a living hell. But to what purpose? That’s the question that will niggle as the drama unfolds. Eventually, the mystery of Teacher Ma herself, becomes the heart of the story.
In Conclusion: The struggles the students go through, though occurring in the petrie dish of their classroom, translates well into the adult world. And The Queen’s Classroom never waters down the danger inherit in Teacher Ma’s methods, nor waves away the consequences. It’s a highly entertaining watch, but it’s also filled with ethical and philosophical questions that will keep you thinking long after the final episode ends. Don’t let this drama pass you by.