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.

7 Replies to “History Boys”

  1. I also saw the play at Sydney Theatre and I still think about it sometimes. Alan Bennett, one of my favourtie writers, wrote it. He often writes about people who are marginalised or failures in the eyes of the world, in the most compassionate way.

  2. Agree with you MH about Alan Bennett. I love his “Talking Heads” series. In particular, I love the one featuring Patricia Routledge. By the way, “Knit In” details will soon be announced.

  3. I had heard that it’s a bit “stagey” and didn’t really move from the theatre to film very well, so I’m glad you enjoyed it. It’s now definitely back on my list of films to see.

  4. Tom – I understand the criticism, as it’s obviously a play transferred to film. But that’s okay for me.

    CB – Yes, it’s a lovely pic, though my friend Graeme hates it, saying it looks very “Deepak Chopra”. Caught up with loads of WA people over the last few days and they “kept themselves nice”.

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