Review: The History Boys

Having spent the morning in a field following G round as she took pictures and taking one of my own (see below), I decided to spend a chunk of the afternoon watching one of my Christmas presents: The History Boys.

History Boy poster

Directed by Nicholas Hytner, starring the ever charming Richard Griffiths, the eccentric Frances de la Tour and penned by Alan Bennett based on his play of the same name. The History Boys is a sweet, funny and moving film charting a group of sixth formers in the early eighties as they embark on their quest to study at the most prestigious universities in the country. No not Bradford (only cool kids go there) but Oxford and Cambridge.

Already amongst the cleverest students at their school their super grades are not enough to reassure the headmaster that they’ll get in and so Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore) is hired to whip them into shape. The trio of Griffiths, de la Tour and Moore provide entertaining, contrasting performances as the barely restrained teachers, providing more than an echo of those rare breeds, the fabled good teacher of yester year.

Indeed, at first glance, this is very much a sepia tinted look back at school life from someone who seemingly wants us to remember only the good times. For someone who was not overly fond of school that did jarred a little, at points.

Yet to focus on the sugar coating would be to ignore the subversive undercurrents running through the film, the uneasy questions it asks of us about the nature of innocence, boundaries and ethics. The line between teacher and student. The film’s final punch is delivered with Ali like accuracy, a message I wouldn’t want to spoil but one we would do well to remember.

Hytner’s direction is good, although something strange seemed to happen to the structure in places suggesting at cut lines or scenes. It doesn’t matter because the writing is well crafted, the performances well judged; you don’t really notice and it certainly doesn’t spoil the enjoyment.

A triumph. Watch it.

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