History Boys

Movie Poster for The History Boys
Movie Poster for The History Boys

I’ve just arrived home from an advance screening of a new English film, “The History Boys” which I can’t recommend enough.

At the heart of the film is the story of a group of boys from a school in Sheffield who, despite their circumstances, are on the verge of entering Oxford or Cambridge. To achieve theirs (and the school’s) goal, the school employs a “hot shot” teacher Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore) whose role is to help them get there, by helping them better understand how they can stand out from the pack.

At first he appears in stark contrast with their existing teachers, “Hector” (Richard Griffiths) and Mrs Lintott (Frances de la Tour), who appear “old-fashioned” in their concern for the overall education of the students. Grades don’t matter, it seems.

It’s revealed, however, that he too is deeply flawed. In stark contrast to other films about “inspirational teachers”, such as “The Dead Poets Society” and “Goodbye Mr Chips” (and so on), all of the teachers in “The History Boys” are deeply flawed. This is something which both they and the students acknowledge, without condemnation.

For Irwin, it’s that he fails to acknowledge his own humanity. For Hector, it’s the habitual groping of his students on the back of his motorcycle, a practice the students acknowledge.

In fact there’s a lot of homoeroticism in this film. One of the students, Posner (Simon Barnett) for example, sings a provocative love song to Dakin (Dominic Cooper). Dakin, too, is provocative in his later approach to Irwin.

Along with this plot, there’s a broader philosophical discussion about the nature of learning. Of great significance is the way Hector discusses intellectual concepts with his students on a level which treats them as equals.

I went with my friend Colin who saw the original play, featuring the same cast, when it was played in Sydney a couple of years ago. Fearing it would fail to live up to his expectations, he was pleasantly surprised. It’s a good film. Highly recommended.

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