From award-winning playwright Alan Bennett (The Madness of King George) comes this delightfully witty comedy of eight boisterous-yet-talented schoolboys hoping to gain admittance to England's most prestigious universities.... more » They're aided on their quest by two teachers, a shrewd young upstart and an inspiring old eccentric, whose opposing philosophies challenge the boys to confront the true meaning of education and the relative values of happiness and success. Adapted from the original Tony Award winning play and starring the original Tony Award winning cast, The History Boys is an engaging, thought-provoking, and wickedly funny look at history, the pursuit of knowledge, and the utter randomness of life.« less
"I did the "Oxbridge term" at exactly the same time as "The History Boys," the fall of 1983. I chose instead to accept a scholarship to an American university that I won halfway through the Oxbridge term. I've lived in America ever since, but my first 19 years was in England, and I can relate to this movie. Some explanations are in order, because some cultural things are hard on American audiences. Someone once famously observed that we're two nations divided by a common language. "The History Boys" is not set at a boarding school; it's a grammar school, and it's a second-tier grammar school. In the pecking order back then, you'd have had your British public (but actually private) schools, then your grammar schools led (as the movie mentions) by the likes of Manchester Grammar. Then you'd have the grammar schools like the one in the movie and it would, for these boys, have been a heck of an opportunity (if you buy into the whole Oxford & Cambridge thing, which obviously I didn't) and a bit of a reach. They'd be at a disadvantage for some of the reasons given in the movie (fewer opportunities than kids at more high-falutin' schools) and for the reason of simple English snobbery and the class system at the time. Second, the class represented here is not, as one reviewer suggested, a mythical place where students care, teachers care and debate thrives. This is an actual place, very much how good English schools were, especially in the last year of 'A'-Levels and the Oxbridge term. It's very well-portrayed here. When I came to the USA, where I attended a fine public university, I never recovered from my disappointment that there wasn't the same level of debate and class discussion. Frankly -- and I love this country, but this was my experience -- no class I took in six years at a good university here ever challenged me as the 'A'-Level and Oxbridge classes had. I think maybe Britain's a little like Japan in having very high standards at the end of high school (and corresponding student stress) that then fades in university. A clarification on the lives the boys go on to lead. They would end up, for the most part, in fine houses (see reviews below). That's the whole point. Attending either Oxford or Cambridge (while there are no guarantees) did pretty much set people for life if they approached it aiming for that. I've seen that from afar in the lives of my contemporaries who went there. That's why the stakes are so high in the story and success so desirable. And a final clarification on the aspect of the movie one reviewer called "morally suspect." Maybe so, but the culture of sexuality in Britain is different from the culture of sexuality here in the States. Britain legalized gay marriage, after all, more than a year ago, with minimal fuss, and even The Times of London now lists same-sex unions without fanfare along with the heterosexual ones. The whole issue of homosexuality is different, including the assumption over there that sexual orientation is not necessarily consistent for life. And same-sex experimentation is famous in largely male or all-male British schools. So that aspect of the movie ought to be judged as much as possible in the context of the movie and probably not in an American context which -- no offense intended -- seems more inclined to censure and prudishness. All that said, and picture quality aside, this is an outstanding movie and a great portrayal of 1983 in England, down to the cars and the music. The only thing I remember that's completely missing here is furious political debate. Britain was four years into Margaret Thatcher in 1983, and politics and social clashes were very much on people's minds, including students like these, and Alan Bennett completely omits that. But that's my only criticism. Richard Griffiths, who is a veteran British actor whose face would be instantly recognisable to any Brit seeing the movie, is wonderful, on a "Goodbye Mr. Chips" level and better than "Dead Poets Society." Indeed, "History Boys" beats "Dead Poets" simply because it's not Hollywood-ized, it's a much more real movie. It's got great bullseye detail, too, like the church service at the beginning where the robed priest ministers to a congregation of three, which is the state of the Church of England, Britain almost completely lacking American-style religion at this point, a very secular place despite the lack of division between church and state. Dominic Cooper as Dakin, Samuel Barnett as Posner and Russell Tovey as Rudge stood out for me, but all the boys are great, and all of the types felt very much familiar to my memories. The movie is often funny, the dialog wonderful, the way the boys are and the classroom scenes perfectly pitched. The essential scene is the one where Griffiths tutors Barnett one-on-one, and it's essential because it tells us exactly why Griffiths' character is a great teacher, which has to be established. The ending doesn't bother me. This is Alan Bennett: This is about ideas. The ending furthers the ideas. This is the same playwright who brought us "40 Years On," yet a much different play and a much different view of a much changed Britain -- and that's why Bennett has endured, because he's changed with the culture. This is a great movie if you're not offended by frank discussion (and ambiguity) about late-teen and adult sexuality, if you're a bit of an Anglophile, and if you're willing to sit back for something that's really a long conversation rather than an action movie. All of which is why it'll have limited success this side of the big pond."
"History. It's just one [bloody] thing after another."
Mary Whipple | New England | 12/29/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"(3.5 stars) Set in the 1980s in a boarding school in the north of England, this newly released film adaptation of Alan Bennett's play (which won six Tony Awards during its 2006 New York run), follows eight young "sixth-formers" who are preparing for the history entrance examinations for Oxford or Cambridge. To help the students prepare for the exams, the headmaster hires a young teacher, Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore), to improve the students' "presentation" so that they will stand out from the crowd. Irwin's goal is to teach the students to think "outside the box"--not to be dull--when they answer examiners' questions.
His mission conflicts with the goals of the English and History teachers. Hector, the motor-cycle-riding English teacher (Richard Griffiths), has taught the students reams of poetry, along with the French subjunctive (though it is not his subject), having students practice their French by pretending to negotiate at a brothel. He takes the long view and values education for its own sake. The History teacher, Dorothy Lintott (Frances de la Tour), has taught the facts: "Plainly stated and properly organized facts need no presentation, surely," she remarks to the headmaster. The students' efforts to be accepted at Oxford drive the action.
The film features many of the same actors who appeared in the stage play, notably the brilliant Griffiths as Hector, the sensitive Moore as Irwin, the tough-talking, heart-of-gold de la Tour as Dorothy Lintott, and the same eight students, joking, bantering with their teachers, and pursuing their favorite subject--sex. The film, however, is very different in tone from the play. In the play the conflict between the teachers and their views of education unites the action and gives depth and universality to strong themes. In the film, this conflict is much less clear, with the themes largely subordinated to questions about sexual orientation by various students and their possible abuse by a teacher. Some characters (especially the headmaster, Clive Merrison) are caricatures, a startling contrast to the more realistically presented students.
In some ways the film is better than the play. The film shows the students within the context of a large school, and film close-ups make their emotional conflicts an intimate experience. Hector (Griffiths) is a far more sympathetic character in the film, due in large part to the close-ups, and Irwin has a more fully developed role. Unfortunately (and I'm not sure how universal this problem is), the film I saw (in a major theater chain), was fuzzy, with vertical black lines showing throughout the entire film, making it appear more like an 8 mm home movie than a major studio production. The film tries to take advantage of the broader possibilities of film vs. stage, but as the context broadens, the film becomes less unified, and the drama loses some of its punch. n Mary Whipple "
"There Is No Better Way Of Forgetting Something Than By Comm
Brian E. Erland | Brea, CA - USA | 04/22/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The '06 BBC Films `The History Boys' is a British `Dead Poets Society' with a much sharper, cutting edge than its American predecessor. The dialogue is crisp and insightful, the plot layered and intelligent and the acting superb throughout. The seven young males portraying a high school class of advanced students preparing for their Oxford University interviews constitute a perfect blend of both similar and diverse lifestyles and socio/religious belief systems. Their performances are further enhanced by amazing performances by Richard Griffiths (Hector), Stephen Campbell Moore (Irwin) and Frances de la Tour (Mrs. Lintott) as the three history teachers preparing them for their upcoming college reviews.
As the all important day draws closer the young men are not only challenged in the classroom but within themselves to discover what history is and the part they play in its continuation. They begin to understand that history consists of not only events of the past but is part of the everyday fabric of random events in which they live. It is something to be embraced, lived and passed on.
`The History Boys' is a tremendous film filled with wit, wisdom and a wonderful soundtrack of upbeat tunes you already know and love. Just remember that it's a British production so make sure you're in the mood to listen carefully, those accents can be tough if you're not giving the movie your full attention."
Theatrical but Funny and Lively Enough to Entertain.
mirasreviews | McLean, VA USA | 04/20/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
""The History Boys" is based on the popular play by Alan Bennett. Filmed between the British run of the play and its world tour, the film features the same cast and director as the stage production. The story is set among the students and teachers at a boys' grammar (state) school in Yorkshire in 1983. The school's headmaster (Clive Merrison) in intent on seeing that his eight best 6th term students (seniors) get into the prestigious Oxford or Cambridge universities. He brings in a new teacher, Mr. Irwin (Steven Campbell Moore), to coach the boys for their exams. Between Irwin's provocative approach, Mr. Hector's (Richard Griffiths) unorthodox classroom, and Miss Lintott's (Frances de la Tour) traditional instruction, the boys get a few lessons on the real world along with their history.
"The History Boys" covers the personal and academic challenges of 12 people -8 students and 4 instructors- as the young men race to prepare for tests that might determine their future. The movie contains some material that isn't in the play, but it has also removed a lot to make the film shorter and tighter. It's theatrical and talky, with characters that are more representative of types than realistic. But it's very funny at times, and that's the basis on which I recommend "The History Boys". The humor is balanced by a somewhat awkward drama that I expect will have no shortage of detractors. The theme of competing educational styles runs throughout: Irwin teaches to tests, Lintott teaches traditional curricula, and Hector provides an eclectic, inspirational window on life and art. This is another one of those schoolboy tales in the vein of "Dead Poets Society". The depth is found in the teachers more than the students, but the boys' unapologetic humor won me over.
The DVD (20th Century Fox 2007): There are 2 featurettes and an audio commentary. "History Boys Around the World: Tour Diaries" (14 min) follows the cast to Hong Kong, New Zealand, Australia, and US during the play's world tour. "Pass It On: History Boys on Screen" (12 min) compares the stage versus screen, the film's themes, and the actors talk about their characters and preparation for the play. The audio commentary with writer Alan Bennett and director Nicholas Hynter is informative and without lulls. They discuss differences between the play and movie, Bennett's inspirations for the characters and story, the debate over different styles of teaching, themes, characters, and the men comment on their own school experiences. Subtitles for the film are available in English, Spanish, French. Dubbing available in Spanish."
Amos Lassen | Little Rock, Arkansas | 03/29/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
""The History Boys"
Amos Lassen and Cinema Pride
"The History Boys" is a stellar film and is a delight to watch. It is also one of the few mainstream films that manages to pull off a gay theme and survive--not only does it survive, it reaches new heights. Allen Bennett has crafted the most literate of scripts and the cast that binds the story together give incredible performances with Stephen Campbell Moore and Samuel Barnett as outstanding. The chemistry between cast members is something I have never seen the likes of--it is natural and delightful to watch. The wit of the film is scintillating. The movie is set in the 1980's and eight secondary school students who qualify for the Oxbridge entrance exams are proud of their accomplishment and are determined to capitalize on the prospects that might follow such an achievement. The film is about them and their teachers as well as the purpose of education, academic competition and coming of age along with teen sexuality. With their successful test scores the eight are almost guaranteed admission to Oxford or Cambridge but their headmaster at their secondary school, Cutler's Grammar School in Sheffield, hires a special tutor to make sure the boys do well on their tests. During the cram course the development of the plot takes place. The eight boys in question have all but graduated and they are simply spending an extra term to prepare for the exams that will determine which university they will attend. It appears that everything is dependent upon their skills in history and that is why two instructors have been added to their study schedule. Hector approaches history in new ways by adding movie trivia, show tunes and a potpourri of interesting tidbits. The other teacher, Irwin, feels that history is anything people will accept. It is the balance between the two teachers and the interaction with the students that brings all of the wit to the fore. The movie is so much about history as it is about the boys themselves. It deals with homosexuality in the shyest of ways which makes the movie seem a bit like a soap opera. Posner, the student, (Samuel Barnett) is infatuated with Dakin (Dominic Cooper), his classmate who is straight but flirts with guys and hopes to seduce his teacher, Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore) who is ambiguous sexually. Add Hector to this who enjoys playing with his student's sex organs. This is treated as eccentric and even though it is illegal and unethical is considered as nothing more than a slight detail. Hector is played as a rather pathetic person with us having to believe that he is one of the most respected persons at the school. His students who he molests think of his behavior as just fun. The boys are open and accepting about homosexuality and especially about gay flirting. It is true that not much goes on in the film--but that is fine because the dialog and the actors make up for whatever may be missing. I understood that the message of the film was that the educational system is not much more than a game to be played and actual learning is a byproduct of the game. One special point that I loved was the way the movie played lip service to the notion that homosexuality is a "metaphor for living boldly" and regards gay life as nothing more than sexuality and sensuality and sensitivity are not even considered. I loved this because this is what so many think--it is us that live the gay life that know differently. Richard Griffiths is magnificent as Hector who fills the boys with poetry with the sole purpose of enhancing their lives. Hs presence consumes the screen and I found myself imagining what it would be like to sit in his classes. When the boys speak as a kind of chorus the movie reaches heights. It is the boys who make this movie--they are just amazing. The film is funny to the nth even though it has very serious themes and a tragic ending. It has such wit and comic timing and the jokes and one liners are often biting. I have read some very negative reviews--if fact the majority were negative. I suppose the movie spoke to me because in my early career I was a history teacher and gay. The student/teacher relationships well drawn and intelligent (but very funny) and the movie was, for me, a very uplifting and moving experience. I found myself drawn into each character and identifying with him--rooting for success and being sensitized by relationships. I laughed and I cried. It is indeed refreshing to see a movie that does not depend upon special effects and computer graphics but instead revolves around characters. What a great experience watching "The History Boys" is "