THE HISTORY BOYS

Directed by Nicholas Hytner. UK. 2006.


Talking Pictures alias talkingpix.co.uk
 
 


 
 

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The screen adaptation of Alan Bennett’s Award-winning play re-unites the same director and original 12 leads from the London and Broadway cast.  This would cause problems ordinarily but because of the dynamic chemistry already in the cast the belief is in the performances.  However, it is little more than a vehicle for Richard Griffiths, allowing one of those great theatrical performances to be seen in the mainstream.  And his Hector is certainly deserving.  Yet Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore) the sexually confused new teacher - in opposition to the old ways of Hector - gets lost in the proceedings, no more than an understudy or second class citizen.   

I like the story you have eight young men who have all passed their A-levels, who in the 1980s are left in limbo as they attempt the entry exams into Oxford and Cambridge.  This one foot in childhood and the other in adulthood, has the boys acting beyond their years convincing us they know more than the teachers do.  This happens a lot in teacher - pupil films, but one teacher knows more than all. 

I do have one gripe and that is the carefree nature of the homosexuality between Irwin and Dakin (Dominic Cooper). It might be because their confused or just economical with the idea., but having a pupil ask a teacher for a blowjob is a bit close to the mark.  (I cannot wait for Notes on a Scandal, which judging by the trailer is explicit.)  While you can get away with it on stage in a darkened theatre, the cinemagoer is more word of mouth, they will communicate more and tell people about this homosexual tryst between teacher and pupil.  I say they might be confused this puts nothing past the excellent Samuel Barnett as Posner, the closeted teenage homosexual who idolises Hector and Dakin as both unattainable and within distance.  When he sings ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered’ to Dakin in the classroom, the feeling is uneasy but Barnett sings it like a torch song in a noir film, uncaring of people’s beliefs.  As the boys have grown up together, the knowing that a colleague is gay does not bother them.  Another positive in a very peer-orientated world. 

The direction by Hytner (who directed the play) is not flashy or glorifying of the play, it is quite modest and not asking to be more important.  The script is witty and the performances as expected are first rate, I like Russell Tovey as Rudge, the most Yorkshire of the boys who gets into Oxford not because of grades but because his relative once went there and someone of the board remembers the name.  For all the studying, Bennett appreciates that you sometimes need luck in your life.  And the scene when Irwin first encounters Hector giving a French class with the boys which starts in a boudoir and ends up on the trenches of the First World War is particularly entertaining and it does not patronise the audience by giving us subtitles. 

Jamie Garwood
 
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