Movie: The History Boys

The History Boys
Originally uploaded by Jo Salmon.

I finally caught the film version of The History Boys. When I saw it staged at the National in April 2005 (with the original cast now in the film version) I thought it was one of the best plays I had ever seen. The best thing about this film is the amazing performances by Richard Griffiths, Frances de la Tour and the boys including Samuel Barnett and Dominic Cooper are on film.

Set in 1983, it tells the story of eight boys in Sheffield who are preparing to take the entrance exam that could see them get into Oxford or Cambridge. From this premise themes of the purpose of education, sexual and emotional freedom are explored. Above all a series of characters emerge so real and genuine. Their virtues and their fears and limitations are all on display.

For instance, Richard Griffith's character Hector inspires the boys with "general studies". But he also likes to grope the boys if he gets the chance when giving them rides home on his motorcycle. For somebody who went to a high school and observed some inspiring teachers organise sexual liaisons in their spare time with selected students this scenario seemed all too believable.

Alan Bennett's play already felt cinematic when I saw it on stage. Scene changes included video segments projected above the set to drive the story along. The film has expanded the setting of the story and adding more female characters. The soundtrack includes some great eighties music, and Rufus Wainwright has a song over the end credits as well.

Unfortunately due to the nature of the medium, a lot has been cut from the original. I would have been happier with a longer film with maybe a few of the scenes extended a little. Also, the film wasn't shot in a very beautiful way. This may have been intentional but at times it feels distracting, especially during scenes that are a little more intimate between characters.

All told these are probably minor quibbles and it is great to see this very entertaining story on film. Left in is the songs sung by Samuel Barnett and Frances de la Tour gets to say the word (when describing one boy's sexual appetite) as "cunt-struck". It opens in the US from 21 November and has been playing in the UK since mid October. Pass it on. History may be "just one fucking thing after another", but this film is worth catching.

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