Margaret: 3 stars /5 David: 3 stars /5
The History Boys
Review by David Stratton
Alan Bennett’s very entertaining play, THE HISTORY BOYS has been brought to the screen with the original cast intact by director Nicholas Hytner, who first staged it at Britain’s National Theatre.
Filming took place after the London run finished and before the successful New York production began.
Set in the 1980s, in a high school in Sheffield, in England’s north, the film centres on eight boys who are chosen to be tutored in history to help them pass the exams to get them places in a major University.
The headmaster, CLIVE MERRISON, hires a recent Oxford history graduate, Irwin, (STEPHEN CAMPBELL MOORE) whose methods clash with those of the veteran general studies teacher, Hector, (RICHARD GRIFFITHS).
What works on stage doesn’t necessarily work on film and that’s very much the case with this extremely theatrical production.
Hytner has attempted to open out the play with scenes such as an outing to the ruined Fountains Abbey, but too many of the actors still perform as if they were projecting to the gallery. CLIVE MERRISON’s headmaster is particularly stagey.
On the other hand, FRANCES DE LA TOUR is dazzling as a waspish woman teacher, and STEPHEN CAMPBELL MOORE is also very effective as the new teacher, the catalyst in the drama.
All the boys are good, too, although the limitations of this stage-to-screen transfer ensure that they come across as ciphers rather than as flesh and blood human beings.
I think you have to blame the director for this. He seems to have been unable, or unwilling, to find ways of transforming this potentially powerful material into a genuine movie.
MARGARET: It does come across as a trifle chaotic, funnily enough, and I did not see this on the stage but everybody was raving about it at the time here.
But even reading it as a play, which I tried to do, you know, to make sense of it, I still found it, you know, elusive, but at the same time it fits in with a lot of films that are being released at the moment, you know, FREEDOM WRITERS...
MARGARET: ...HALF NELSON.
MARGARET: About, you know, the value of education.
MARGARET: Regardless of where it comes from, you know. You have a drug addicted teacher in HALF NELSON and in this you have a slightly off...
DAVID: Slightly seedy, sort of?
MARGARET: Slightly seedy feely teacher.
DAVID: Yes, but who is a great teacher nonetheless.
MARGARET: Well, yes, who...
DAVID: Yes, of a certain type.
DAVID: But it’s the other teacher, it’s Irwin, who teaches them to think out of the box and think new ways of doing things.
MARGARET: Yes, and I found...
DAVID: All of that’s interesting, I think.
MARGARET: Yeah, it is. You know, thematically it’s interesting, obviously. I found it all a little bit arched, to tell you the truth.
MARGARET: But, you know, there are certainly nice things in it.
DAVID: Yeah, I think it just doesn’t work on film as well as it certainly worked on stage.