This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com
Now, if your only experience of schooling were to come from essentially every other film set in an American high school, this 1980’s Yorkshire school would seem to be a very alien place indeed. Where are the standard issue roving cliques of geeks, jocks and catty wenches? Why are the intelligent kids not being picked on? How come the gay kid isn’t forced into a tragic outsider role? Why are the teachers more angst-ridden than the kiddywinks?
Oh, wait, that’s how real life worked, didn’t it? Admittedly I’m going by the perhaps unrepresentative sample space of, well, me, but schools just aren’t the Lord of the Flies-esque, jungle law byzantine power struggles that even throwaway fluff like Mean Girls would have us believe, let alone the attempts at serious dramas leveled at an age group where all slight rejections and setbacks are a serious drama. In not attempting to be some shambling mockery of an adult’s remembrance of a past that never happened, History Boys by default becomes the most truthful representation, perhaps ever, certainly of the past two decades, of what it’s like to start bridging the gap between child and man.
It would rather seem I’m getting ahead of myself, however. On a basic level, Alan Bennett’s adaptation of, er, Alan Bennett’s manifoldly belauded play History Boys concerns a select group of final year high school students final term, one last tutorial push to aid them in their bid to enter varied Cambridge University schools reading history. Which is perhaps somewhat stating the obvious, given the title. To this end the school’s officious Headmaster (Clive Merrison) brings in young turk Tom Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore) to impart stylistic tips on creating essays capable of turning a selection board’s collective head.
This is perhaps taken as something of a slight to existing teachers Mrs. Lintott (the always terrifying Frances de la Tour) and Hector (Richard Griffiths), the latter’s general studies class being a seeming haven of arbitrary teachings, poetry recitals and reenactments of final scenes of films all imparted in Hector’s inspirational idiom. Meanwhile, Posner (Samuel Barnett) is struggling with containing an attraction to fellow student Dakin (Dominic Cooper), Dakins’s growing idolisation of Irwin threatens to grow into something more and Hector’s occasional passes at the young men in his duty of care also threatens to grow into something more, with results as disastrous as you can no doubt extrapolate for yourself.
You can, if it makes you happy, insert much the same raft of criticisms of History Boys as were pointed at stage to movie translation of The Producers musical, that largely reducing to a dull whine insisting that it’s just not as good as it is on stage for some reason no-one seems able to clearly articulate. As with such criticisms of The Producers, this may well be an issue to take into consideration if you are in the slender percentage of the population having already seen the stage play. For the rest of us, such uncultured hoipolloy as have the nerve not to live close to the west end of London or Broadway, you may take all such criticism, roll into the shape of your choosing and insert into the most readily available orifice.
History Boys, for the most part, is a lot of fun. With the movie cast taken directly from the stage show there’s no question whatsoever of the actors appearing uncomfortable or unconvincing in their roles, and Richard Griffiths is clearly in his element, which might be slightly worrying given the nature of his character. The general air of good-natured ebullience on display manages to override the ever-present suspicion that there’s little real point to the events that unfold. Apart, naturally, from entertaining an audience, which History Boysdoes very well, thank you so very much.