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The History Boys
The History Boys
Actors: Richard Griffiths, Frances de la Tour, Clive Merrison, Samuel Anderson, James Corden
Director: Nicholas Hytner
Genres: Indie & Art House, Comedy, Drama, Music Video & Concerts
R     2007     1hr 49min

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 »

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Movie Details

Actors: Richard Griffiths, Frances de la Tour, Clive Merrison, Samuel Anderson, James Corden
Director: Nicholas Hytner
Creators: Allon Reich, Andrew Macdonald, Charles Moore, Damian Jones, David M. Thompson, Julia Stannard, Alan Bennett
Genres: Indie & Art House, Comedy, Drama, Music Video & Concerts
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Comedy, Drama, Music Artists, Classic Rock
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen - Dubbed,Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 04/17/2007
Original Release Date: 01/01/2006
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/2006
Release Year: 2007
Run Time: 1hr 49min
Screens: Color,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 1
Members Wishing: 0
MPAA Rating: R (Restricted)
Languages: English, Spanish
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French

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Movie Reviews

Gets it just about right
James G. Greenhill | Durango, CO USA | 02/05/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"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."