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Originally a multiple award winning play (2004) by the British playwright Alan Bennett, this 2007 film directed by Nicholas Hytner does Bennett's comic genious justice. Set in the mid 1980s in a grim northern grammar school, the film follows a group of smart young boys who have achieved so highly at A Level that they are now preparing for the upcoming Oxbridge exams.
However the story is deeper than just another plot containing schoolboy mischief...What evolves before your eyes is a beautiful story that portrays the comradery, humour and innocent weaknesses of a group of teenagers as they embark on the tumultuous journey into adult life. This profound story portrayed by a group of talented young actors mixed with the entertaining and witty comedy of Alan Bennett, makes this a film that should be held amongst the greatest in British comedy.
With well known faces such as James Cordon and Dominic Wood the film is a guaranteed comic success and a must have for your DVD collection.
In my opinion however, the star of the film is Richard Griffiths, whose emotional portrayal of the boys' general studies teacher Hector and his troubles controlling his sexual desires is what, in my opinion, makes the film so profound and outstanding.
The deeper lessons about the problems with the education system and the tragedy that comes with society's cruel treatment of homosexuals is what propels the film and the play into the midst of the modern greats and if you delay watching it then you are truly missing out on a great experience. Griffith's brilliant portrayal of Hector guarantees tears by the end.
What makes the film more delightful is that the cast is predominantly the same as the original theatre cast and therefore the same magic that was seen in that first production in 2004 on the stage is maintained behind the camera.
The History Boys (2006) is a slightly off key, extraordinarily entertaining film. Set in a Grammer school in the grim north of the 1980s. Eight gifted boys have taken and passed their A levels and are now aiming for Oxbridge.
In a bid to raise the profile of his school by having the boys gain entry to Oxbridge the headmaster brings in a Cambridge graduate. His job is to develop the boys and teach them to think outside the box and not just remember answers.
As the story unfolds it highlights the vunerability, humour and bravado of teenagers as they embark on the journey to adulthood and although set in the grim North of Thatcher's Britain it is as relevant now as it ever was.
With a bit of a twist at the end and a heavy homosexual undercurrent throughout, the film doesnt mind tackling some taboo subjects. In particular the inapropriate behaviour of a teacher towards pupils.
Directed by Nicholas Hytner and writen by Alan Bennett with a fantastic all British cast including Richard Griffiths and Frances De La Tour and running for about 110 min this has now become one of my favourite films.
All in all The History Boys is a fantastic film that is heartwarming and funny. Well worth watching even if you think "History. Its just one thing after another"
WHAT IS IT: The History Boys is a 2006 film based on the play of the same name by Alan Bennett. It was directed by Nicholas Hytner (who also directed the original production of Bennett's play) and stars the cast of the original production. The story follows 8 boys taking an extra term after A Levels to prepare them for the entrance exams for Oxford and Cambridge. They are under the tutelage of flamboyantly eccentric General Studies teacher Hector, dry witted History teacher Mrs Lintott and the young and enthusiastic teacher hired to help them get in, Irwin. The boys struggle with the vast amount of work they need to do and come to realise that they have to be able to offer more than their academic skills.
STYLE: Set in the early 80s, the film sets its context using the music that the boys would listen to as its soundtrack. Most of the action takes place in the classroom and the day trip scene was filmed on location in England giving it a low budget feel. It is a world away from the Hollywood blockbuster, there are no flashy set pieces just a good strong story with excellent characterisation
CHARACTERS: As with most of Alan Bennett's writing, the characters in the History Boys are very finely drawn and utterly believable. They are just the type of boys you would find in a high school - the playboy, the sporty one, the awkward one - without falling into stereotypes. Dominic Cooper is annoyingly smug as Dakin, the object of everyone's affections, but it completely works as a character as his cockiness and bravado expose his underlying confusion. Samuel Barnett is exceptional as Posner, the lovelorn schoolboy struggling with his unrequited feelings for Dakin. In fact, there isn't a performance that is anything less than excellent in this film. The characters really come alive without being clichéd or overblown, which is a credit both to the writing and the acting. Bennett's writing is very witty and clever and is awash with literary references but manages to retain its charm without becoming too academic or difficult to follow. There is a great warmth about this film and I really felt I could empathise with the characters as they display the difficulties of being a teenager and the multitude of expectations placed on young people. There is something really genuine about the performances of the central characters and this is very moving in places. I don't want to give away any key plot points but there are parts in which you really feel for Irwin as the boys try to get the better of him. Richard Griffiths gives an excellent performance as Hector and manages to elicit sympathy for a complex character that could be viewed in a completely different way (this may not make much sense now, but you will see what I mean if you watch the film!)
SUMMARY: A very charming, enjoyable film which broaches a range of issues faced by young people with warmth, humour and intelligence. Bennett's writing captures all the tensions of adolescence without being hackneyed or patronising to its subject and the cast portray this mixture of emotions brilliantly. I would thoroughly recommend this to anyone.
Did anyone ever tell you that your schooldays would be the happiest days of your life? Anyone who still continues to subscribe to such nonsense will love this veritable tuck shop full of golden reminiscenses, of sixth form chumminess, matey teachers and lessons that involve no work at all.
The premise is of a group of eight students at the fictional Cutlers boys' grammar school in Yorkshire who have returned for an extra term of tuition designed to get them through the Oxbridge entrance examinations. This is the brainchild of ambitious headmaster Felix (Clive Merrison) who hires Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore), a young contract teacher, to assist Mr Hector (Richard Griffiths) and Mrs Lintott (Frances de la Tour) in their chosen subject of history.
Perhaps it's because I never went to a Great University that I don't recognise the lessons as depicted in this film, as the boys are generally shown prancing and singing around a piano, or off on a day trip round a castle, or acting out scenes from films, rather than the reality of the hot afternoon tedium staring out the window wondering if the lesson would ever end.
Irwin's main lesson to the boys is that to achieve the "extra push" so desired of their headmaster, they should take a controversial approach to their rendering of history. Basically, any unconventional or even midly offensive view of it can be expressed of it as long as the facts to justify that view can be used to back it up. As a result, the naive Oxbridge dons will think that such essays will stand out over and above their competitors, and that therefore their writers are more thoroughly deserving of the highest places in academia.
Harmless enough in itself, no doubt. The problem for me came in the ambiguous attitude writer Alan Bennet seems to want me to have towards Mr Hector, whose apparently kind offers to give boys a lift home on his motorbike masks a more sinister purpose of him touching them up when he does so. The boys, of whose parents we see next to nothing, seem to be in on the little secret, make a joke of it among themselves and are astonished to discover their beloved teacher is being forced to resign when a complaint is made about it.
It seems Irwin too has inclinations towards one of the boys, namely Dakin (Dominic Cooper) who, despite dating the headmaster's secretary, invites his teacher to give him a blowjob as a thank you for his successful examination results.
That's as far as I'll take the plot. Basically, Bennett's ambivalence towards what is essentially paedophilia distorts completely any point he was trying to make about the value of education. For it to be linked with homosexuality as well must dismay the homosexual community who have been slurred with insinuations of this sort since time immemorial. We're asked to sympathise here with a teacher who abuses his position to touch up young boys safeguarded to his trust. As someone who's managed to survive a Christian Brother education, Bennett's wildly missed the mark with me. And you - would you have any sympathy with such a character if he was wearing a cassock? I thought not, and neither should you have any for a teacher who doesn't wear one either.
Bennet's view of education may be controversial, but he doesn't have the facts to back it up. It's not just an alternative viewpoint, it's just plain wrong. And you don't need to be an Oxbridge scholar to see that.
Initially I went to see 'The History Boys' as 'homework' for my English A level coursework - I was studying Alan Bennett and preparing for the Oxbridge admissions process which seemed to make it very apt. Perhaps this wasn't the best idea - a film of boys working on essay after essay in preparation was slightly intimidating to say the least! But removing my personal fear factor, I did enjoy the film. I wasn't blown away by the sheer brilliance of it as I'd hoped I might, and at times I found that the acting highlighted the moral messages a little too clearly (I would have liked them to have sounded more off the cuff and enlightening).
Overall I felt the film was immensely sad and provoking, something I don't normally enjoy in a film. Yet by the end I felt that I had developed myself through the catharsis used by Bennett, and I hope that anyone who now watches it feels the same. It is worthwhile simply for that.
This film focuses on eight boys who have done extremely well in their A levels in the early 1980s in Sheffield, and so who thus decide to stay on and do an extra term in the hope of gaining a place at Oxford or Cambridge. It was adapted from an Alan Bennett play, and there are certainly times when you can see that the dialogue to very much more for the stage than the big screen. However overall it is a very interesting and thought-provoking film which challenges our notion as to what education really should be about. Both of the teachers who are central to the film peddle the belief that it is not just about knowing your facts and figures, but about offering an alternative view to well-documented events. Richard Griffiths excels as the ageing but inspirational figure with a love of poetry and music, whilst Stephen Campbell Moore is equally impressive as the younger, more dynamic teacher who is brought in by the Headmaster to give the boys that extra something which might just make the difference. Familiar faces amongst the boys include James Corden of 'Gavin and Stacy' fame, as well as Dominic Cooper who has of course found fame and fortune thanks to 'Mamma Mia'. Overall it is worth a watch, but expect something fairly highbrow rather than the cinematic equivalent of easy listening.
Directed by Nicholas Hytner
Play/Screenplay by Alan Bennett
Comedy / Drama
Released 13th October, 2006 (UK)
Samuel Anderson as Crowther
James Corden as Timms
Stephen Campbell Moore as Irwin
Richard Griffiths as Hector
Andrew Knott as Lockwood
Russell Tovey as Rudge
Jamie Parker as Scripps
Dominic Cooper as Dakin
Samuel Barnett as Posner
Having managed excellent results in their A levels, and possessing what it takes to make it into the prestigious schools of Oxford and Cambridge in 1980's England, a group of history pupils attending a grammar school in Sheffield are told that in order to prepare for their entry exams into these two prestigious schools, they must attend classes for one term. This term will be filled with last-minute titbits of information, and extensive cramming.
In order to assure that his pupils will make it into these schools, the headmaster hires an Oxford graduate teacher, Irwin, in order to tutor the boys and polish up their rough edges. Irwin's tutoring is based on challenging the boys' intellect by demanding that they produce work that is not based on obvious historical facts, but on the underlying ins-and-outs that lurk just beneath the surface of historical events. He wants essays that are lively, novel and interesting. Hector is their eccentric English teacher, who also dabbles in French, drama and music.
As the term progresses, caught between two very different types of teachers, the boys will learn about life, sexuality and love... and what it takes to make it in the world. They will learn that you either know what you're talking about, or you lie and act your way through it!
Hector is a likeable character, a tad eccentric, but extremely knowledgeable and flexible in his teaching skills. He can go from poetry to French in the beat of an eyelash, and is endearing in his eccentricities... up to a certain point. Hector loves to give the boys lifts on his motorcycle after class, however, although the boys do joke about it, they aren't too keen on the notion... because Hector loves to grope their private parts during these rides. This character is highly affable, however, his liking for young boys/men is distressing because his sexual inclination tends to border on the paedophiliac side as opposed to the homosexual side. This glitch causes a moral dilemma within the viewer, and it becomes extremely difficult, as the movie progresses, to sympathize or to even like this character. Griffiths has worked this character well enough, portraying him as the director and the writer had no doubt intended, however, a little more depth would have gone a long way into making this movie far more emotionally profound and disturbing. Hector never truly shows any guilt or shame over his actions, preferring to downplay what others consider to be shocking behaviour... and this is what causes the viewers to distance themselves from this character, therefore, when Hector's fate is played out at the end of the movie, the viewer can no longer feel any true sympathy or sadness for him.
Irwin is very much the Hugh Grant of this movie... clever, dashing, a tad arrogant, and extremely pleasant and charming. Moore's acting skills are never lacking within the time-frame of this movie, and his portrayal of Irwin is solid and unwavering. Although at first glimpse Irwin's character seems to be straightforward and a tad boring, he is a man with depth. Firstly, Irwin is not truly the self-confidant and arrogantly clever academic he portrays himself to be... he is not cool, calm and collected. Deep down, Irwin is insecure, his academic accomplishments are a sham, and his sexuality is still a mystery to him. Stephen Campbell Moore's acting skills are flawless in this movie.
The boys (as a whole), were brilliantly portrayed by their respective actors, however, there is always that underlying feeling that it isn't truly acting at all on the part of the actors. Perhaps it is brilliant acting, after all, they are all so extremely convincing, however, the impression is that these boys are playing themselves. I won't go into a lengthy description of what each boy's role is as this would take forever, however, I will stress that... acting or not... they are the heart and soul of this movie.
This movie is like a Picasso... you either hate it or you love it. Personally, a Picasso painting is artwork under the influence of some serious drugs! However, others will think it brilliant. My preference is for artists such as Turner and Constable whose realistic artwork was inspired by the beautiful English countryside... or by Lowry, whose paintings, although childish, are the epitome of naiveté and simplicity. This said, THE HISTORY BOYS started out like a Lowry and ended up looking like a Picasso.
For the first 20 minutes, the wittiness of the dialogue hooks you and reels you in, then, far too quickly, the constant hyping on history makes you almost comatose... until finally, you're left in a deep coma and can't come out of it until the credits roll up onto the screen. At first, I thought I was in for a thrill, a great movie experience... however, although I am a history buff, the lessons started to take up too much time and I felt cheated. True, the title does state that it IS the HISTORY BOYS, and you should expect a certain amount of historical facts to be flung your way... but there is such a thing as too much! I felt cheated and disappointed because this movie appeared so tremendously promising with the complicated depths of its characters... but at some point the director and writer totally lost the plot, and the dialogue simply turns into mindless rapid-fire babbling. I would have liked to see the story focused on the boys and their lives, not on how to write an essay or cheat your way into Oxford and Cambridge... such a shame.
When I sat down over Christmas 2007 to watch a BBC showing of "The History Boys", I did so with no real expectations. I was aware it was written by Alan Bennett, who was someone I was aware of, but whose work had largely passed me by. I also knew that it had started life as a highly successful play, but that was about the extent of my knowledge. I thought it would make for acceptable enough background noise as I read my book, never thinking that not only would the book be forgotten that night, but that the DVD would soon go straight onto my Amazon Wishlist and soon become part of my collection.
In 1980s Sheffield, eight students at Cutler's Grammar School have gained the best A-Level results the school has ever seen. Keen to go to either Oxford or Cambridge Universities, they return for an extra term to study for the entrance exams. Concerned that the education they are receiving from their previous teachers Mr Hector and Mrs Lintott will educate them in subjects but not in getting through, the headmaster hires Mr Irwin to give them what he calls the necessary "polish". Mrs Lintott is to teach history, Mr Hector general studies and Mr Irwin is to teach them the best way to pass the entrance exams and get the places they all seek; some more enthusiastically than others.
We get to follow the boys during this last term and the final examination and interview process which would see them accepted or otherwise to their chosen university. Although we get to see a little bit of their home lives, generally the focus is within the classroom and the majority of the film takes place in the school. The interaction between the students and the known and well loved, if not entirely respected, teachers is covered in depth and you get to see the range of knowledge and intelligence of the students as well as the general cheekiness and insubordination you get with the group of late teenage boys.
This was the major joy of the film for me. The boys are meant to be the smartest that the school has to offer, so the conversations they have on history and various other topics is generally highly intelligent and they certainly make points I wouldn't have thought of when I was studying history. What was even more remarkable about this was that I hated history when I was at school, yet I still enjoyed the cut and thrust of the discussions on the subject. The banter with the teachers was quite good as well, reminding me of my time at school where you could still have a relatively friendly relationship with some of the teachers without the fear of being expelled and the teachers more or less free of the threat of physical violence that seems to exist in today's schools. Given how long ago I was in school, I was glad that this film was set in a 1980s Grammar School, which is also the type of school I attended, rather than a more modern educational environment.
What helped with the feel of the film was that the cast was taken wholesale from the stage version of "The History Boys", so at the time the film was made, they had been performing these roles together for quite some time. This meant that you really believed that all the boys were close friends and they had built up their relationships with the teachers and each other over several years at school together. The one area where this did seem to fall down slightly was in Stephen Campbell Moore's role as Irwin, as there seemed to be a bit more familiarity than would be expected with a new young teacher and as the supposed newcomer to the school, he didn't seem to be treated as differently as that role would require.
The performances were generally pretty good, although the amount of screen time every student got depended on the script. Whilst no-one let the side down, so to speak, some of them were dreadfully underused at times. Russell Tovey seemed to stand out as Rudge, although this could be because his character was a lot more reticent and less the centre of attention than all the others and so he stood out more. Samuel Barnett as Posner was also above some of the others, looking like he was really struggling with falling in unrequited love with one of his classmates. Dominic Cooper as Dakin was excellent as the object of that desire, playing the role of someone for whom everything comes easily, particularly the world of sex, as if it was actually him and not a part he was playing. My favourite character was Jamie Parker as Scripps, as he had a wonderfully dry sense of humour and got the most sardonic lines, if not always the funniest ones. Strangely enough, the character I thought was a bit too much of a show off for my tastes was Timms, played by James Corden, who has had the most success of all eight of the boys, co-starring and co-writing the BBC comedy "Gavin and Stacey".
Whilst the performances were all effective for the time they were on screen, it was this time that varied immensely. I believe that part of the problem was that the play itself had a running time of around 3 hours, but the film version was set at slightly under 2 hours, which has meant that a lot of material has been lost and some scenes do show the scars where it was removed. The scene with Penelope Wilton as the art teacher is largely pointless and seems to have made it into the film by dint of having a couple of decent lines in it, but serves no real purpose. It also meant that a brief moment of racial tension between Crowther and Akhtar was left hanging and whilst Rudge was apparently a decent sportsman, we saw nothing of this and very little of the boys' varied home lives. I do feel it could have been interesting to have explored these aspects a little more, rather than to concentrate on the sexual orientation sub plot which was so all pervasive that it threatened to be more a film about the boys' sexual preferences, rather than their struggle to achieve entry into our more famous universities. I also thought that the ending was a little trite and formulaic, but it was done well enough that this didn't matter too much.
What was left was generally very good, however. The interaction between the cast members was perfect and whilst some of them seem to fade into the background, to the extent that I had to look up Crowther's name to find out what it was, nobody stood out for putting in a poor performance. The direction of the film seemed to be pretty much spot on as well, although the director Nicholas Hytner was the same person who directed the stage play with the same cast which, as he admits in his DVD commentary, made it easier as the cast generally knew what they were doing and how best to stand to react to any given situation and to relate to each other.
Possibly the best part of the film was the soundtrack, which mixes the period of the film with the period of some of their teachings perfectly. The 1980s are represented by the greats of the time; the Cure, the Smiths, Echo and the Bunnymen and New Order all being featured. But in a nod to the age of their subject matter, there are pre-war songs from the likes of Gracie Fields and a superb version of "Bewitched", sung by Samuel Barnett as Posner, which underlined the gay love story between him and Dakin wonderfully. The whole sub-plot might have had too much screen time at the expense of other potentially interesting storylines within the film, but it was a wonderfully told and acted love story.
It's useful that the film is such a success, as the DVD extras are best described as a little lacking, especially by comparison with the quality of the film. The "History Boys Around the World: Tour Diaries" is a 14 minute tour documentary following the cast as they take the stage show on a world tour. Whilst it's a generally light hearted look showing how well they all get on off stage, there are also some moments where things are getting to them. Unfortunately, there is no idea of any time frames, so it's difficult to judge how trying things are and it just seems like a whistle stop look at what they were doing and doesn't offer much, although it was enough of a laugh in a couple of parts to be worth having a look at the once.
The same is true of "Pass It On: The History Boys on Screen", which is a 12 minute look at how the film made the transition from stage to screen. Generally this is a few on set shots and interviews with everyone talking about how good the experience was. There are a couple of brief mentions about the technical differences between the two mediums, but this happens rarely and there's more of this in the DVD commentary, which barely makes this worth watching.
The commentary wasn't too bad, being the writer Alan Bennett and the director Nicholas Hytner. As with everyone else, the two of them have been involved with the story right from the start and can offer a lot of information. The contrast between the two men helps keep things interesting, as Bennett has an almost monotonous Northern accented voice and talks quite often about how specific people influenced the writing and how he received letters about some of the writing. Nicholas Hytner has a more varied tone and talks more enthusiastically about more general ideas; setting the scenes and the psychology behind some of it. There are some light hearted moments and a couple of decent anecdotes, but it does perhaps get a little too technical at parts, which could be useful for a film studies student, but not so much for the casual fan that I am. As with the "On Tour" feature, it was interesting to watch the once and it does cover some of the information from the "Pass It On" feature to render that largely pointless.
If you like your films intelligent and amusing, this could well be the kind of film for you. It is very much a dour Northern version of "Dead Poet's Society", with some flashes of humour coming through although not as much and with the teachers having an influence on the students which has more to do with the subjects than with life in general, although these lessons all make it through. If you ever enjoyed "Dead Poet's Society" as I did, then I suspect you may also enjoy "The History Boys", as I did. For prices as little as £2.95 from the Amazon Marketplace, this is a film not to be missed if you like something more intelligent than your average thriller movie. Given that the extras aren't really worth watching more than the once, now it's been shown on the BBC, it will almost certainly be shown again and it's certainly one not to be missed for free and whilst I've watched my version of the DVD enough times for it to have been worth the money I paid for it, if you're not sure you'll end up loving the film as much as I did, then waiting for the repeat would be the suggested option.
The History Boys are a group of grammar school lads set on going to Oxbridge after their A-levels. Set in Sheffield back in 1983, their intellect burns brightly fueled by the unorthodox teaching methods of their general studies tutor, Hector (Richard Griffiths). The headmaster (Clive Merrison) is keen to get as many of the lads through to the best universities as possible and so hires Mr Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore) to help them with their preparation for the extra exams involved. Crowther, Posner, Dakin, Timms, Akthar, Lockwood, Scripps, and Rudge all find that they have to adapt to a radically different way of thinking with Irwin's emphasis on spin rather than truth which is diametrically opposite to dear, old Hector's values and beliefs. With established history teacher, Mrs Lintott (Frances de la Tour) monitoring events, Hector's habit of giving the boys a lift home on his motorcycle turns out to have unfortunate consequences, stirring the waters up over their rites of passage which is an undercurrent of their progress through their studies.
Released in 2006, "The History Boys" is an adaptation of the play of the same name written by Alan Bennett. Directed by Nicholas Hytner, the movie takes much of the production and cast from the original play and translates it into a screen format. A recipe for success you might think, bearing in mind that the play won a number of awards including a Tony in 2006. There are plenty of things to like about "The History Boys". There's the familiar "Grange Hill" effect of youths in school uniform wrestling with the various life challenges that come their way as they battle to grow up. It's all here as you would expect: sex, smoking, drinking et all along with the intellectual cut and thrust of the boys challenging concepts thrown at them by the teachers. There's an extra political twist in the ongoing debate about non-public school kids making it to Oxbridge and an entertaining sub-plot about the essence of teaching. As Rudge puts it succinctly on a number of occasions "History is just one fucking thing after another".
However, I couldn't help but have mixed feelings about the way the movie turned out. Hytner directs and the assumption would be that a great play makes a great film. In this case, it doesn't. Many of the scenes look staged with camera work and script making both the action and dialogue look clunky and forced. It's as though the boys invariably take a deep breath before delivering their lines when a much subtler style of delivery would have had better effects. The characters and story are engaging for the most part and the sub-plot involving one of the boys being a homosexual and learning to live with it seemed credible and a story worth tracing. What I couldn't follow was (presumably Bennett's) mild obsession with homosexuality and the debate around it as a whole when we had the plotline we needed in youth struggling with his emerging sexuality. An old man on a motorbike routinely fondling his charges, Dakin offering sexual favours to his male teacher even though he's allegedly straight and his fellow class mates pondering their own susceptibility to homosexuality to the point where they ask for a report about how the offer of oral sex with the male teacher went all made me uncomfortable, not in a homophobic sense, but in the sense that the playwright and subsequent screenwriter seemed to be taking huge indulgences with the subject matter at the expense of a good story.
Maybe it's me but I found much of the script just that bit too clever. Often I found myself listening to exchanges shaking my head thinking that we'd just been taken down yet another metaphorical cul-de-sac. Another exchange, another occasion where nothing material had actually been said and it was more a kind of high brow, points scoring exercise. There are notable exceptions, though and maybe to a large extent, the movie is captured in the exchange between two of the boys considering their lives at present: Posner: "Do you ever look at your life?" Irwin: "I thought everybody did." Posner: "I'm a Jew... I'm small... I'm homosexual... and I live in Sheffield." [pause] Posner: "I'm fucked." Notwithstanding, de la Tour is imperious as the established teacher that everyone trusts (I desperately tried to forget her Miss Jones character from "Rising Damp"), Richard Griffith's is eccentrically excellent as the confused but passionate Hector and Clive Merrison does the best, inadvertent impression of Bill Nighy I've seen in a while. Campbell Moore is a bit limp as the supply teacher and the lads are all clearly good actors albeit a little over-the-top on screen as opposed to in the theatre.
With a run time of 109 minutes and a 15 rating, "The History Boys" is a movie for adults and older children. It's essentially, a rites of passage movie with a compelling plot and a fascinating debate about the essence of teaching. With plenty of humour, drama and a finale that the audience will care about, for the most part I enjoyed the movie. Incidentally, the movie's score rocks hugely for fans of 80's music with contributions from Echo and the Bunnymen, New Order and the Cure amongst others. The gay subtext takes away some of the ground made by the story and the director's translation from play to movie works only in part and so the film is flawed but then history isn't perfect; it's just one fucking thing after another.
Thanks for reading
DVD available at Amazon from £15.01
The chance of a northern comprehensive six former getting into Oxbridge when Alan Bennet wrote
his iconic stage play was about 16-1. Today, where one in three kids are going on to higher education, that ratio has actually risen to 20-1. If you're working class and living in a tower block it rises to 100-1. Nothing, it seems, has changed in class ridden Britain, especially now students have to pay for university ( the parents that is) and so why this movie is just as relevant today as it ever was.
Although Bennett's classic uses the central premise of grammar school kids trying to get on and into the private upper class finishing school that is Oxbridge, The History Boys is really just a disguised biopic by the play write confronting his own homosexual right-of passage through the liberation of that elite hotbed of it called public school; some say the cast and writers real message from films like American Beauty that irrationally-to the context of the film- explore that sexuality. Most writers subtly write about themselves in their work and as Bennet was educated in a private school he can't really have a great take on the struggles of Darren and Jase trying to get into Oxbridge from the state system, which is why this isn't exactly what you expect it to be when you see this iconic play.
The cast are the same guys that had been doing a two year run of the stage version at the National Theatre right up until the movie shoot, so inevitably delivered a stage play style performance, each actor 'projecting' his lines in that irritating and pretentious theatre way, not allowed to over-lap prose. I know of no 1980s six form tutorial groups that have a piano in the class and the boys enjoying practicing French musical comedy in general studies, the boys unrealistically smart and knowing, pretentious and mature, quoting James Joyce and Shakespeare in every other line. Christ, if you did that at my state school in the day you would have got the piano cover slammed down on your head. This is very much another Alan Bennet working class fantasy of how he sees that life he never touched.
Although this knowing pungent delivery style does ware down the viewer, it just about gets away with it as there are some quite profound moments from Bennets writing and quotation in the substance that makes this an intelligent movie worth a look, and as its on TV this week (BBC2 9pm next Friday) you wont have to pay the rental to find out..
Samuel Anderson ... Crowther
James Corden ... Timms
Stephen Campbell Moore ... Irwin
Richard Griffiths ... Hector
Frances de la Tour ... Mrs. Lintott
Andrew Knott ... Lockwood
Russell Tovey ... Rudge
Jamie Parker ... Scripps
Dominic Cooper ... Dakin
Samuel Barnett ... Posner
Sacha Dhawan ... Akhtar
Clive Merrison ... The Headmaster
Penelope Wilton ... Mrs. Bibby
Adrian Scarborough ... Wilkes
Georgia Taylor ... Fiona
The proud and ever so slightly cliché and caricatured headmaster of a Sheffield Grammar (Clive Merrison) has organized his elite six formers extra tutorage in the new term after some excellent A-Levels results. He reckons the history class has potential and so boldly attempts to see if he can get some or all into Oxbridge, not the done thing in these parts.
The kid's in question are all students of Mrs. Lintott (Frances de la Tour), an old fashioned bird that prefers just to tech the boy's facts, for it is facts that Oxbridge are interested in. But its chubby and camp General Studies teacher Mr. Hector (Richard Griffiths) who really knows what the top universities are looking for, stimulating the boys sensitive and creative side (as well as their nuts when he gives them a lift home on his moped) to make them more rounded individuals. But the boys are his intellectual equal and tolerate his outrageous behavior as they know that's the only way Hector can function, much to the anger of the headmaster.
So enter specialist teacher Mr. Irwin, a fresh faced specialist at coaching boys to pass the divisive Oxbridge entrance exam. The obnoxious class of eight is soon on his case, as they would any new teacher, probing his weakness, suspecting that he too is a 'confirmed bachelor who likes musical theater'. This growing and abnormal homosexual undertone in the film (for a grimey Sheffield state school) continues in the sensitive form of the classes most delicate and confused student in Prosner (Samuel Barnett), who has a crush on the groups alpha male student in Dakin (Dominic Cooper), a boy mature and arrogant beyond his 18 years, proving his superiority by sleeping with the Heads sexy school secretary (Georgia Taylor). He is the leader of the gang and doesn't reciprocate Prosners attentive glances, instead spending his days trying to resolve Mr. Irwin's sexuality. But with all this sexual tension going on will the boys actually find time to work hard and figure out how to get into Oxbridge, if that what this film is really about...
I think the biggest mistake you can make with the film of the stage play is to put the stage play on the film, which was director Nick Hytners gamble here. He should have watched Mammets Glengarry Glen Ross to see how it's done. Now that's a movie of a play! Yes the film works to some extent but the cast just stomp on to the set and don't really adapt their stage presence... Bennett's screenplay not really softened for the wide open spaces of the big screen.
Weaving in comment on modern political correctness and exploring the others teacher's pangs of regret not trying for Oxbridge you find yourself warming to the adults in the piece as that's where your sympathies lie in the act of teaching these ghastly and over the top kids, who incidentally look the actors' age range of 21-30 on screen to the films detriment, again dissolving realism. In fact there's some of that Paul Whitehouse, 'oooww, suits you sir', about the ghastly brats.
It's a slow boiler too, the viewer having to build up to liking the style of the film. But once you get going its all very fine and the occasional profound and inspiring moment of quoted literature has you gasping, none more so than when a tearful Hectors explains what learning is really about and how their subject of history is the finest knowledge of all. Although if you have the old BBC black and white tape of the original I would probably watch that instead over the holidays as it is the superior version for me. But don't forget! Friday night at 9pm...
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6.8/10 (5,321 votes)
Two BAFTA nominations for Frances De la tour and screenplay for Alan Bennet...
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Audio Commentary by director Nick Hytner and writer Alan Bennet.
I listened to about a half-hour of it but it resolved into a conversation and reminisces of the school days of the two wafflers.
'History Boys Around the World: Tour Diary
A hand held digi camera diary from the boys exposes their real ages and genuine enjoyment of touring the world to plug their movie, Richard Griffiths looking particularly naughty when he wanders of in Bangkok.
'Pass It On: History Boys on Screen'.
A gentle making of as we go behind the scenes of the set, mostly in and around a Watford girls school, the actors and writers showing how tight they are as a team after their successful stage run.
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RuN-TiMe 101 minutes
Suitable for young adults and up.
A group of history pupils at a boys grammar school in Sheffield pursue a place at Oxford or Cambridge, where they are subjected to contrasting styles of teaching. Adapted from Alan Bennetts (THE MADNESS OF KING GEORGE) immensely successful play of the same name, THE HISTORY BOYS focuses on the experiences of eight history students at a grammar school in northern England in the mid 1980s as they attempt to get a place at the top two universities in the country; Oxford and Cambridge. The headmaster of the school is keen to send as many of his pupils to Oxbridge as possible and employs supply teacher Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore, BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS) to teach them the tricks of trade concerning how to get into Oxford or Cambridge. This style of teaching is contrasted sharply with that of the boys eccentric and maverick English teacher Hector (Richard Griffiths, WITHNAIL AND I) and the facts and figures based teaching style of their history teacher Mrs Linnott (Frances De La Tour, HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE). THE HISTORY BOYS primarily focuses on the state of the education system in the 1980s and what the teenage boys learn about life, love and education along the way and succeeds in being a hugely entertaining film about growing up and the different approaches to life one can take.