Tuesday, October 17, 2006

History isn't bunk


I never intended writing movie reviews and such like here but now know that every so often I'll chance upon a new book, movie, strangely-shaped cabbage or revolutionarily-designed ski-pants and will just have to to share my knowledge with the world.

With such an inclination was I gripped when I saw the History Boys film. It's based on a play by Alan Bennett and has "enjoyed a very successful run on Broadway" as they say in real reviews.

When you see the flick itself, complete with the original stage cast, you don't wonder why for very long.

The plot centres around eight academically gifted schoolboys in 1980s Yorkshire who all have a chance of bringing fame and prestige to their school and families by gaining admission to Oxford or Cambridge University. They return to their school for extra tuition following their final exams, to be headmastered by Clive Merrison's excellently odious, snobbish little principal who is truly obsessed with some of his own students getting to either of these universities so he might bask in the reflected glory. He hires a new hotshot tutor to give "an edge" to the boys' writings and prompt them into new ways of thinking (somewhat artificially, but effectively in the finish). This new teacher's methods are a bit at odds with the hilariously eccentric methods that have brought the boys to their current point of progress - e.g. French class involves playing out a brothel play, or scenes from classic movies - and the divergences between the two main teachers' oeuvres forms a key sub plot of the movie that at times gets a little poignant. But I didn't cry...

That's all secondary to the characters of the boys themselves though. You've got Dakin, the suave good-looking bastard we all knew at school who everyone fancied (and I mean everyone), Posner who's a gay Jew who sings like a choirboy, suffers agonies of lust and gets alot of the most pithy quips, while Timms is the obligatory chubby always banging on about tits and sex. There are others too but the ones mentioned are the most developed. The interaction between them all is typically teenage stuff at times and there's more than a hint of Dead Poet's Society going on too, but the real strength of the film is in its razor sharp script.

There's some genuine cut out, keep and bring 'em home one-liners littered throughout the movie, alot of them delivered by the boys but also by a deliciously glib and witheringly sarcastic Francis de la Tour who plays another of the teachers at the school. One of her finer moments (although there's way more from her and others that are even better) comes when she admonishes a colleague who has been collared for mildly molesting one of the students. The colleague remarks that he didn't see it as touching per se, but more as an educational rite of passage from an older man to younger, or as he says "a bendiction of sorts." She replies: "Oh for fucks sake Hector, much as I love you, a grope is a grope, not the bloody annunciation." I love straight-talking funny types like that in real life and I'd love to have had a teacher like her. Instead of the hatchet-faced old biddies I did have...

Anyway, that's only one of the lesser highlights in a script of many, while most of the acting performances are excellent as well. Some of it naturally reminds you of your own school days but the openly gay subtexts between characters are not something I reckon happened or happens in many schools among bunches of friends, no matter how friendly or close they are like in this movie.

Anyway, I've said enough. If you admire a well-written film, then see this. It's alot of laughs but makes you think at times too. It's a little smug and over-fond of itself though, which is the only gripe - a little too in love with its own importance and slightly posturing intelligence - but don't let that put you off.

Go on, see it. You too Henry if you're reading.

7 moos and woofs:

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