The Passionate Eye·Documentary

A man in his 30s returned to his old high school as a student. Nobody noticed for 2 years

The documentary My Old School looks at the bizarre true story of schoolboy imposter Brian MacKinnon..

The documentary My Old School looks at the bizarre true story of schoolboy imposter Brian MacKinnon.

Alan Cumming appears in this still frame from the documentary My Old School. In the film, Cumming lip-syncs an audio interview given by Brian MacKinnon, who was a 30-year-old Scottish man when he duped a school into thinking he was a Canadian teenager. (Mongrel Media)

In 1993, 16-year-old Brandon Lee enrolled at Bearsden Academy, a high school in an affluent suburb of Glasgow. Lee told his classmates that he'd moved from Canada, where he'd been privately tutored and where his opera singer mother performed, until her tragic death. 

Lee said he'd moved to Scotland to live with his grandmother. He was a slightly awkward student, but soon found friends; he played soccer, introduced his classmates to retro music and starred in the school's production of the musical South Pacific

He was a very good student with excellent grades, and after graduating from Bearsden, he started medical school at the University of Dundee. 

But in 1995, Brandon Lee's unbelievable secret was revealed: he wasn't a teenager at all, but a man in his early 30s named Brian MacKinnon. 

MacKinnon had in fact attended Bearsden when he was actually high school age — more than a decade before, from 1974 to 1980. 

The deception captivated people around the world. News crews descended on the school to unravel the bizarre story of the student imposter. Why did MacKinnon do it? And how did a man in his 30s pass as a 16-year-old for so long? 

In the documentary My Old School, MacKinnon tells his tale, but with the proviso that he won't show his face on camera. Instead, he's played by actor Alan Cumming, who lip-syncs MacKinnon's taped interview.

"There was no crime committed," MacKinnon said in the film. "Technically." 

Some of MacKinnon's former classmates and teachers (who knew him as Brandon Lee) are also interviewed, sharing their memories of meeting and spending time with him, and the shock and disbelief that reverberated through the community when his elaborate ruse was discovered. 

But while he was ultimately able to fool everyone at Bearsden, he didn't blend in as easily as he'd thought.

"I remember looking at him and thinking, 'Oh.' He looked like a man," said former classmate Iffy.

"More stubble, for some reason, than your average pupil," said Brodie, who was a student at Bearsden at the time.

"My first impression of Brandon was that he seemed a little bit older than the majority of pupils," said Mr. Gunn, the physics teacher. "He wasn't quite the fresh-faced youth that you expect from fifth-year pupils."

Almost 30 years after MacKinnon showed up at Bearsden for the second time, My Old School revisits the unbelievable story and looks at what really happened.

"To rewind your life and be someone different — what would possess someone to do that?" said MacKinnon's former classmate and friend, Nicola.

My Old School debuted at Sundance 2022. Watch it now on CBC Gem. 

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