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|The History Boys|
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E||
dir Nicholas Hytner|
scr Alan Bennett
with Samuel Barnett, Dominic Cooper, Jamie Parker, James Corden, Sacha Dhawan, Samuel Anderson, Russell Tovey, Andrew Knott, Richard Griffiths, Frances de la Tour, Stephen Campbell Moore, Clive Merrison
release UK 13.Oct.06,
06/UK Fox 1h52
Subjunctive thinking: Corden applies pressure
Expertly adapted from the National Theatre production by the entire cast, writer and director, this is a bracingly involving school drama that's lively, smart and extremely pointed.
At a boys' school in 1983 Yorkshire, eight clever-but-crass students are on track to get into Oxford or Cambridge. Fiercely intelligent, hilariously funny and soulfully artistic, they have one term to prepare for the entrance exam. They enjoy lively banter with their general studies teacher (Griffiths) and their history instructor (de la Tour). And now they have a new tutor, the extremely young Oxford grad Irwin (Moore). But do they have what it takes to get into the country's top universities?
The filmmakers and actors take their time outlining these characters, avoiding quick stereotyping. These are living, breathing young men, and as we get to know them, we engage with their individual journeys--and their corporate one. It's an especially strong ensemble; they interact like they've been in school together all their lives. And their teachers are like part of the family. We vividly see how they understand each other, teasing and taking advantage and pushing each other in various ways.
Although each character has defining moments, some get a short shrift. Anderson has so little screen time that he barely registers, while most of the plotting goes to Barnett and Cooper, who deliver stirring performances. Griffiths is simply wonderful--funny, creepy, inspirational and a little bit sad. De la Tour has such sharp dialog that we're glued to her every word. And Merrison is full of hilarious bluster as the expectant headmaster.
Bennett's script is masterfully engaging, packed with humour and intelligence that earns our attention and pays off with startling insight. The story's themes about historical truth and personal expectations are beautifully explored without sentimentality or simplification. And Hytner opens out the play cleverly--there's no staginess at all--using terrifically sunny cinematography and a snappy song score, and making the most of each setting. The final coda may feel a little out of place and unnecessary, but this is filmmaking that's both powerfully entertaining and deeply provocative.
Vanessa Scott, Auckland, New Zealand: "Am I the only person on the planet who hated this movie? It is a worn out, tired adage about what the undeprivelidged can really do if they have teachers who believe in them. Worse, its inference that gay men can only be truly happy if they touch up young boys is offensive and preposterous. Irwin's cynical teaching and pretentious 'considerably brighter than you' attitude made me want to bop the chinless wonder squarely on the beak. Further, the transition from stage to screen didn't work for me either. The dance around the stage that is so necessary for stage actors doesn't work on screen. I could go on, but you get my general message: Worst film ever!" (25.Feb.07)
Lee Conway, Western Australia: "The Emperor has no clothes! What must have been a cliched play, with attitudes that would have been just as grossly out-of-wack in 1983 as they are now, has morphed into an appallingly stilted and overacted film. These 18 year olds are not only cleverer and wiser than their years, but they look much older as well. All of them appear to be in their mid twenties, young fogeys, in fact. As well they seem to be as totally out of touch with the 80s as Alan Bennett must have been. Such a disappointing film. The only original theme in the film was also rather creepy, i.e. the light-hearted, jokey way everyone except the overacting, Hitleresque headmaster dealt with the 'groping' of his students by the grossly overweight general studies teacher." (2.Aug.07)
jay, hotmail: "awesome movie." (22.Apr.08)
© 2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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