HISTORY BOYS, THE
A bunch of public schoolboys in Northern England are poised to be tested for entrance to Oxford or Cambridge, an unprecedented situation. They've been taught history by Mrs Lintott (Frances de le Tour) and literature by the maverick Hector (Richard Griffiths), but to ensure success, the headmaster (Clive Merrison) hires recent graduate and spinmaster Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore) to coach the boys in exam technique. The clash of their teaching styles, their barely suppressed sexual attraction to the boys and the raging hormones of the teenagers themselves - not to mention academic pressures - combine to create a volatile few weeks of learning about learning and learning about life. All the boys are caught up in the explosive atmosphere, especially the effeminate Scripps (Jamie Parker), the handsome self-styled superstud Dakin (Dominic Cooper) and Timms (James Corden).
Review by Louise Keller:
The love of words and language are the central themes of The History Boys, but what is even more important is the enthusiasm and passion that is imbued in eight students as they are groomed for acceptance at the best universities. Director Nicholas Hytner brings the original London cast of the smash-hit play by Alan Bennett to the screen in a hugely enjoyable outing of subtle humour, witty words and a keen insight into human nature and the art of learning. Two teachers with opposing styles are the boys' key influences, and both have a role to play. The characters are endearing and the journey that the History Boys make - both scholastically and personally - is one that we enthusiastically embrace.
Richard Griffiths won a Tony Award for Best Actor on Broadway as Hector, the unconventional, passionate teacher who instills the love of learning into his students by injecting a generous dose of silliness into his classes. Physically, Griffiths is larger than life, and the unpredictable style of his poetry-loving Hector - not to mention his habit of groping the boys' groins - is unique. Who would ever imagine the teacher of general studies encouraging his students to play-act a scenario in a French brothel, when practising the use of the conditional and subjunctive. When Stephen Campbell Moore's Irwin, who is only '5 minutes older than' the students, is recruited to impart some charm and polish, the contrast between teachers could not be greater. The students benefit from both - academically and personally. Samuel Barnett and Dominic Cooper shine as the gay, Jewish Posner and Adonis-like, ladies man Dakin, who is the object of attraction to both male and female.
'Transmission of knowledge is an erotic act,' says Hector, and we learn about everyone's sexual preferences and ambitions. Frances de la Tour is marvellous as she reprises her Tony award-winning role of the dry and droll Mrs Lintott, who counters male ineptitude. History has never seemed so fresh in this perceptive and stimulating look at learning, life and language.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Inspirational classroom dramas and classroom comedies tend to rely on the classic (hence successful) formulas; The History Boys is different because it swerves past the predictable devices while paying its respects to the central ones about teachers' dedication. Where this film stands out, drawn obviously from its original source in Alan Bennett's play, is the rather more complex ambition of tackling issues about education through intimate, personal elements. The school ground is also a sexual ground and the characters play serious, adult games here, impacting on the entirety of their lives. This is the reality of the screenplay, where it intersects with the essence of human behaviour.
It's also funny in unexpected ways and moving in surprising ways. Their performances honed in London's National Theatre production, the cast deliver a blistering cavalcade of revelations and revolutions, as we follow them on a relatively short but intense journey. Richard Griffiths gives a mountainous performance of great complexity and veracity as Hector the iconoclastic literature teacher who guides his pupils with the admonition that it's all about passing wisdom from one generation to the next - not to mention finding one's own wisdom.
But Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore) is a different sort of teacher, and the conflict is not lost on the boys. Still, the teachers are not the only stars in this story.
Director Nicholas Hytner probes every painful pore of his characters, yet maintains a lightness of touch that is essential for the work not to flounder in the underlying and varied distress of the central characters. Indeed, as in life, we don't always identify the emotion until it's passed ...
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HISTORY BOYS, THE (M)
CAST: Samuel Anderson, James Corden, Stephen Campbell Moore, Richard Griffiths, Frances de la Tour, Andrew Knott, Russell Tovey, Jamie Parker, Dominic Cooper, Samuel Barnett, Sacha Dhawan, Clive Merrison, Georgia Taylor
PRODUCER: Nicholas Hytner, Damian Jones, Kevin Loader
DIRECTOR: Nicholas Hytner
SCRIPT: Alan Bennett (play by Bennett)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Andrew Dunn
EDITOR: John Wilson
MUSIC: George Fenton
PRODUCTION DESIGN: John Beard
RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 3, 2007