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The History Boys 2006

An unruly class of gifted and charming teenage boys are taught by two eccentric and innovative teachers, as their headmaster pushes for them all to get accepted into Oxford or Cambridge...

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Classic British drama with a stellar cast including a young Russell Tovey (HBO's Looking) and Dominic Cooper. Great complex performances and a true movie in every sense of the word. Enjoy.
Alan Bennett's play The History Boys was a sweeping success when it hit Broadway, grabbing several Tony awards and gaining glowing notices. Bennett adapted it himself for this film version, and much of the cast was kept intact, with stars Richard Griffiths and Frances de la Tour reprising their supporting roles as teachers at a British school in the 1980s. Having just gained excellent A Level results, eight boys are being pushed by their headteacher (a hilariously selfish Clive Merrison) to get into Oxford and Cambridge, the best universities in the country, and to do so they'll have to stay one more term at their old school, preparing for the entry exams with their experienced, portly teacher, whom they have nicknamed Hector (Griffiths) and a new arrival, Tom Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore), hired precisely to prepare the boys, but with the headteacher dangling a position as History teacher under his nose as incentive. The History Boys is a warm, affectionate film about a group of unruly boys and their equally unruly teachers; it's sharply and pointedly written and well-performed.

But as, in it's second half, the film slides into a rather muggy quagmire of homosexual dilemmas between the two teachers and two of the boys, it rather loses its lustre, slightly loses its edge and ultimately takes on a rather uncomfortable aura of tragedy. But, nevertheless, it's well worth seeing. Hytner finds a surprisingly cinematic possibility within the film's stage origins, never truly overcoming them but adeptly using his camera, especially as he cross-cuts between various conversations in the school's corridors. As for the cast, Griffiths is excellent, a perfectly judged mixture of bouyant humour and deeply-hidden tragedy, while Moore, that enormously underrated actor from the enormously underseen Bright Young Things, follows up on the promise he showed there with a sharp and moving performance as a teacher who becomes as confused as his pupils. De la Tour isn't given enough to do but is very wily when she does appear: a terrific performance of an overlooked woman who wants the best for her boys, since she was never able to have it herself. Of the boys themselves, Dominic Cooper is ruggishly charming and, in his last scenes, alarmingly direct as Dakin, the object of many affections, while Russell Tovey, as the dimmest boy Rudge, finds surprising weight in his under-written role, and Jamie Parker is an amusing highlight as Scripps, who seems to be the one everyone goes to with their problems. Maybe Bennett leans too much towards the provlocations of homosexuality in some characters and overlooks the others, but The History Boys is well worth seeing for it's sharp wit and solid performances.

Full review to come.
:fresh: This film was one of the stranger films I have watched this year.

It was a film about a bunch of lads sitting their exams to get into Oxford university. It is also about their three teachers with their own teaching methods and subjects, trying to help them.

One of the teachers is new and drafted in just to teach the students what I was taught as lesson 1 in history, always have a balanced argument, nothing in history is difinite, it all has different arguments for and against. This other teacher although seems very different to Mr. Hector the older teacher, has more in common then you might first think.

As I watched it there were a lot of quotes, phrases and dialogue that went over my head, even being a history student myself.

Well the film ends up being more of a story about homosexuality and peoples tendencies than history. Some of which is made to make you laugh some of which didn't really swallow well with me if you don't mind the use of words.
* 1/2 THE HISTORY BOYS - A group of students in England study to try to get into Cambridge or Oxford Universities. Not terribly interesting, and with some curious life lessons: Don't be honest, don't be yourself and child molesting is just a quaint eccentricity that you should laugh off. Skip it.

It is always a great risk taking a popular play from the stage and transferring it onto the silver screen. If you can endure the criticism from theater purists and dumb it down enough for mainstream America to be entertained, then there is room for a bit of success. Rob Marshall found great mainstream success with Chicago, infusing it with Hollywood talent that blew audiences away. Other stage to screen adaptations, such as Joel Shumacher's The Phantom of the Opera have been well received by critics, but shunned by the American audience in that they were too difficult to follow on the silver screen. In cases like these, and many others, it often rests on the vision of the director and how he or she decides to interpret the small world of screen into the vast realm of film. With The History Boys, director Nicholas Hynter shows plenty of vision in making a film that does the play justice, he just may not capture the minds and hearts of the American moviegoer.



The History Boys tells the story of a troupe of young students in England, who are preparing to make their way to either Cambridge or Oxford, the beacon's of Britain's educational system. They are crass and unruly, yet they are very gifted. Instead of attempting to retrofit new talent into the roles of these boys, Hynter brought in the original cast of the play that ran in London's National Theater in 2004. The result is one of the more natural ensembles of the year. It is easy to see that these young men are very comfortable in these characters and comfortable with each other. The dialogue is seamless, the musical interludes are expertly placed and the film takes on a welcomed air of lightheartedness and irreverence.

It is that sense of lightheartedness that makes this film enjoyable, but it may still be a bit too much for the American mainstream. While the trailer of the film may lead one to believe that it is just a casual schoolyard romp about learning life's lessons, there is more too it. It does deal with themes such as the passage into adulthood, seen through the journey to University, and understanding the relevance of history and how it impacts our present and future. But it also possesses a strong underlying sexual theme about it, particularly in that some of the students have relations with their male teachers. While this theme adds to the story's air of innocence, it becomes something that is somewhat uncomfortable -- something that will not sit well with the average American moviegoer.

But uncomfortable sexual themes aside, there is much to be celebrated about Nicholas Hynter's adaptation of Alan Bennett's popular play. The History Boys is a sensational silver screen revision, capturing the spirit of the play and transferring it almost seamlessly through the eyes of familiar characters and unto the American mainstream. Fans of the play will appreciate the director's reverence and the cast's familiarity, while first time viewers may find it difficult to swallow. Either way, The History Boys is enjoyable, even if you don't quite get it.
I was beginning to think that this film wouldn't be coming to the Spokane market when it arrived a couple of weeks ago. After seeing it, I couldn't stop thinking about the film, and to me, that is what makes a great film. The characters are charming, and their relationships fascinating.
Based on a play that swept the Tonys after a smash hit run in London's West End, The History Boys is a gleefully literate movie that almost pompously wears its erudition on its sleeve: boasting snappy dialogue, provocative ideas, and a great cast, it's also heartfelt and quirky, willing to develop its characters beyond mere stereotypes while showing its audience the unusual (if not, occasionally, downright bizarre) ways in which they influence each other's lives. Some have called it Dead Poets' Society for a British audience - and I suppose I agree with that comparison, though only up to a point. In fact, the premise - a batch of promising young boys gaining inspiration from their teacher(s) to aspire to better things - is about all that's shared. THB benefits from having considerably less cheesy sentiment adorn its ending (not that I didn't personally appreciate this in the dramatic context of DPS, I did - but it takes a uniquely American mindset and movie to make that hokey blend of inspiration and sentimentality really work), but also lacks the same weighty, emotional crunch that comes from some of the problems that beset the boys who populated DPS.

THB focuses on a set of bright young men who have just completed their A-levels and are being groomed by their grammar school for the Oxbridge entrance exams. While each boy is an aspiring scholar keen to make his academic mark, they each bring their own ideas and values to their lessons. There's Dakin (Dominic Cooper), all swagger and easy charm, for whom nothing seems impossible. There's Rudge (Russell Tovey), the quiet recalcitrant who lacks his mates' intellectual edge but remains keen to try for for Oxford. And then there's Posner (Samuel Barnett), the sensitive soul struggling to come to terms with his Jewish faith, his sexuality and his fixation on Dakin. Throw into the mix gregarious comic relief Timms (James Corden), staunchly Catholic Crowther (Samuel Anderson) and token Indian Muslim Ahktar (Sacha Dhawan), as well as a couple of other boys besides, and the teachers have quite a handful on their hands.

Not that the teachers aren't themselves fascinating characters: the almost comically-proportioned Mr Hector (Richard Griffiths) is a literary tour de force and an institution at the school, a whirlwind of ideas and quotations and life who lacks in structure and syllabus what he makes up for with passion and a genuinely felt love of learning. Not to mention a dubiously indulged penchant for young boys, his students gamely offering him the cheap thrills he seems to need to continue living a life not quite commensurate with his ideal. He's ably supported by the wry, dry Dorothy (Frances de la Tour), a practical realist with a scathing tongue and an interesting, bitingly hilarious view of the patriarchy of history through the ages. But the real interesting counterpoint comes in the form of young Mr Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore), earnest and clearly intelligent but with a far more focused approach to the work: unlike Hector, he teaches the boys the tricks that will make them stand out amongst a gaggle of similarly-trained, equally competent Oxbridge candidate (compare Stalin to an unthreatening puppy! or some such tosh). It's a complicated synergy that reluctantly emerges here, as some of the boys, desperate for a grade rather than another poetic life lesson, justifiably gravitate towards Irwin's more conventional, but no less stimulating, classes... while others continue to seek out Hector's heartfelt, learned bluster.

Just to get this out of the way: THB is a movie that emphatically will not appeal to everyone. You can easily argue that it's stuck up its own arse, and, admittedly, it actually is that - whether the movie as a whole sits well with you will depend on just how much you can stomach the characters deliberately twisting arguments inside out, spouting poetry or entire chunks of prose, or just singing, mainly because Hector appears to be transported into a realm of contemplative ecstasy whenever Posner croons charming old ditties like 'Bewitched' in his just-shy-of-choirboy tones. It is, practically undeniably, poncey, navel-gazing, hoity-toity stuff, as the boys discuss just what history is and how things come to be. Some of the characters don't quite get a chance to breathe either, which is understandable with supporting roles such as Scripps (Jamie Parker), whose sole function appears to look bored and express frustration with Hector's meandering style. But it's a particular travesty when key characters fail to convince, the almost smarmy Dakin being a case in point. For someone with whom more than one other character is infatuated, Dakin remains a paper cutout - his supposed charm and swagger failing to really translate onscreen (however rakishly attractive he might have been onstage) and thus rendering his generous emotional gestures to his teachers and school mates at the end of the film inexplicable rather than quirkily amusing.

Much has been said about the staginess of the film, with criticisms mainly directed at Alan Bennett's alleged failure to turn the original play into a movie script that would unfold in a less stilted way onscreen. If a lot of people say it, there's got to be at least a kernel of truth to it - and yes, again, THB, in its numerous classroom-bound scenes, or when entire stretches of dialogue play out in the claustrophic space of a corridor, occasionally feels as if someone snuck into the theatre with a camera and filmed the actors live. The characters leave their classrooms far less often than I'd like, with the only signs of vital, bubbling life being a montage of the boys' interviews at various history-steeped Oxbridge colleges. The ending, a coda that briefly details the futures of each of the characters in a smart, affecting way, is perfect for the stage... but arguably less effective when translated onto the silver screen, draped as it is in blues and greys and portentous dialogue.

All that being said, I personally didn't have a problem with the way the movie remained almost static, poised as it invariably was in the heart of Hector's classroom - I thought the feeling of being a little stifled, a little snowed under from the weight of ideas and words tossed out with merry abandon by the characters, was wholly appropriate for this particular movie. You find yourself, like the boys themselves, making a constant, conscious effort to keep up with the movie as it ebbs and flows around you: the quicksilver dialogue, the sheer intensity of the discussions and the ideas being bandied about. The movie speaks eloquently of a love for learning, suggesting that the possibilities are, as the cliche goes, endless: both in the form of Hector's unconventional methods (conducting classes in which his boys pretend to be brothel-keepers entirely in French, having his students learn and act out chunks of classic films like Brief Encounter) and Irwin's thought-provoking dialectics (challenging the boys' preconceptions of how to answer exam questions, teaching them to examine history from the point of view of the considered academic).

That THB does not villify one teacher or the other, or prize one's methods above the other's, is a triumph - and in fact, one of the best things about the film. Aside from the woeful characterisation of Dakin, the movie excels at drawing out its other key characters, making them people you're more than happy to spend two hours watching. Hector, a repository of "gobbits" and arcane bits of knowledge, teeming with love for life and learning... and yet trapped, in a way, by a marriage and conventions that prevent him from truly living the life lessons he tries so hard to impart to his boys. Irwin, too, is fascinating as a character: first appearing in the guise of an uptight stereotype, the villain of the piece intent on wresting the reins of leadership from the cheerful, rotund hero, he is quickly given an inner life that allows the audience to warm to him as well, be it through his clear passion for education or his own deep-seated feelings of inadequacy. Posner, arguably the breakout star of the eight History Boys, is the heart of the film: a great study of a boy on the verge of becoming a man, still clinging almost wistfully to his girlishly poetic attachment to Dakin while recognising, deep down, the pain and loneliness he is choosing for the future in being true to himself.

Predictably, since the original West End cast turned up to make the movie together (a rare occurrence and certainly one that should be repeated as often as possible!), the cast is absolutely smashing. Griffiths gives a brave, bittersweet performance, at once jocular and uplifting, at others laying bare the soul of a man who has done wrong things for wrong reasons, but remains essentially good. Watch out for the scene in which Hector dissects a passage written by Thomas Hardy - the aching pathos Griffiths injects into his line readings is a world away from the boldly comic mugging he indulges in at other points of the film. Moore is brilliant as well, taking the difficult, complicated role of Irwin and smashing the character wide open, such that his vulnerability comes less as a surprise than a matter of course. de la Tour and Barnett are also joys to watch, as is Clive Merrison in the thankless role of a snippily uptight, results-oriented headmaster.

A shot of heady adrenaline right to the heart, THB feels like any moment you've felt inspired by a book, a teacher, an idea. It makes you want to read, to learn, to discuss and to think more about anything - about history and how things really come to be as they are, about your life and how you want to live it... about anything. About everything. Movies like this come along almost never - it's as much a privilege as a pleasure to have had the chance to see this one.
Talky but rewarding filming of the stage play. Very capably acted by the entire cast. Good score, very well written. It can be a bit tedious at times though.
From what I have heard it doesn't translate well to the big screen and I can't really disagree. Feels really stagey in a bad kind of way.
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