The History Boys

The History Boys

**

Reviewed by: Moominkat

The History Boys was quite a nice film, although really I'd have preferred to watch it at home on my own. It's a bit grubby and my mum wouldn't like it. Oh dear me, no, she'd be huffing and sighing at every scene, looking at me in that disapproving way she has. At least at home you can stop the thing and make a nice cup of tea.

A group of rowdy sixth formers (at least that's what they were called in my time) in an all-boys grammar school in what looks like Bradford are preparing for the Entrance Examinations to Oxbridge. This rang a bell with me, although I didn't have a tenth of the preparation they get. I was given a list of books to read and left to my own devices: I got in, but watching this, I can't think how. These boys have intelligence, cheek and knowledge, thanks to their literature and history teachers, but the headmaster feels they need a personal tutor to help bring out that extra special something to get through. This promises to cause discord and rivalry, but nothing nasty ensues; it's all very genteel, everyone gets on with the job.

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To be brutally honest, I found this film a bit flat, more suited to being shown on TV. Maybe it suffers from comparison to Dead Poets Society, although it's not at all the same story. I kept thinking: 'this has been done before'. The play was only staged in 2004 but the subject feels outdated - and not because it's set in the 1980s. It's well written and clever, I can see why some critics raved about how it questions the way history is taught. This is a very good point, but I don't think the play translates into a very interesting film. Maybe that's a sad reflection on our times: I'm too used to stories involving male teachers liking young boys more than they should. But here this is treated as nothing to be upset about, indeed it's regarded by the boys as an amusing introduction to life and sophistication. This should be shocking, but I didn't feel any outrage.

Alan Bennett has a distinctive voice and a clever, witty, dry and provocative outlook, while being able to capture the pathos in a situation (sometimes even the bathos). I found his plays An Englishman Abroad and A Question of Attribution wonderful and even gripping - they were perfect for their time. I loved The Madness of King George - what brilliant writing! But this? It's old hat and, for me, only makes for a competent, very 'British', film, despite tour de force performances from Frances de la Tour (sorry, couldn't resist) and Richard Griffiths.

Reviewed on: 01 Oct 2006
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A group of sixth formers find inspiration from an unconventional tutor, but there's more to their lessons than first meets the eye.
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