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The History Boys [DVD] 
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Comedy adapted from the play by Alan Bennett. Eight bright, funny history students in the mid 1980s are pursuing an undergraduate place at the country's two finest universities. Their headmaster is obsessed with breaking into the ranks of those schools that regularly send boys up to Oxford and Cambridge and enlists Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore), a shrewd newcomer, to coach the boys into intellectual shape for the trials ahead. Seduced though they are by the exam-busting bag of tricks offered by the temporary supply teacher, the boys are torn by their loyalty to the hugely eccentric, poetry-spouting English master Hector (Richard Griffiths) and the regular diet of nourishing facts and figures dispensed by Mrs Lintott (Frances de la Tour), their history mistress. As they prepare for the daunting admissions process, the journey of the History Boys becomes as much about how education works as where education leads.
Based on the acclaimed play of the same name, The History Boys is a faithful, intelligent piece of cinema, even if it is a little reluctant to stray from its theatrical roots.
Penned by Alan Bennett and set in 1982 Yorkshire, The History Boys follows a group of A Level students as theyre schooled through their attempts to get into Oxbridge. Under the tutelage of Richard Griffiths liberal Hector and Campbell Moores Irwin, theres plenty here to admire. Firstly, the script crackles along, with snappy dialogue and characters well worthy of your interest. Secondly, the performances from the predominantly young cast are well worthy of note. And then theres the deft directorial touch of Nicholas Hytner (The Madness Of King George, The Crucible), all of which lifts The History Boys into a film of real merit.
There are questions to be asked over whether youre expected to sympathise with one or two characters in the film, of course, and theres the aforementioned issue that its far too faithful to the source play (which results in an overlong running time). But ultimately, The History Boys is a witty, challenging and testing film, whose qualities outweigh its problems. --Jon Foster
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Now here's the thing: This is a screen version of a stage play, which may account for much of the criticism, because the medium of film appeals to a different, much broader audience. With a play, audiences expect to be challenged, to be presented with controversial views (as they are here), whereas with film many viewers expect nothing more than pleasant entertainment with clear cut morals, a vision of the world that the censors have approved of. If that's what you want, give this one a miss. Really, do. Even if you're a huge fan of the delectable Dominic Cooper or the ever popular Richard Griffiths.
However, if you're willing to give it a go, you will be presented with a close look at the educational system in Britain back in the early 1980s. I found it interesting to follow those working and middle class boys through that last year of school leading up to their Oxford/Cambridge entrance exams, see them develop under the tutelage of their very different teachers, all of whom are in it for different reasons and teach them in different ways.
The dynamic of the ensemble cast is quite extraordinary, probably because the film uses the identical cast that had performed the play on the stage for many month prior to filming and that would tour the world together thereafter. Each of the young actors has their character down to a tee. And it's the same with the teachers. Especially Richard Griffiths must be praised for his fearless performance in a rather difficult (and distasteful) role. Also very solid are Frances de la Tour as the history teacher and Stephen Campbell Moore as the young teacher specially hired to bring the boys up to date with exam techniques. It is an absolute joy to watch the interplay between all these characters.
This is an interesting film, but decidedly not one for everybody. If you insist on political correctness and propriety at all times, stay away it. Also keep in mind it's set in the early 1980s and that it reflects a time 35 years in the past. However, if you are willing to approach it with an open mind, there is quite a bit of food for thought here.
The DVD I bought has subtitles and an audio description track for those viewers who may need them. It also includes the following extra features:
- Commentary with director Nicholas Hytner and writer Alan Bennett
- History Boys Around the World Tour Diaries
- Pass It On: The History Boys on the Screen
The acting is fantastic all round, particularly from the titular boys and their tutor played by Richard Griffiths - his "pass it on" scene is the best of the film and enchanting to watch. My favourite character has to be the headmaster played by one of my favourite actors, Clive Merrison. Merrison puts every fibre of his beings into all his parts and this is no different - a barnstorming effort.
The plot is unfortunately the killer here. Though at its heart it is accomplished and carries good messages, the strand about paedophilia is bizarre and doesn't really fit, especially with the younger teacher. I understand writer Alan Bennett wanted to be thought provoking but this in my opinion oversteps the mark of taste. Nevertheless I finished the film in a mild state of enjoyment, so 3 stars it is.
For me it's aspirational; what education should be across the board: dynamic, literate teachers, who are knowledgeable and educated to a high standard themselves... well without the paedophile teacher of course. France de La Tour, Richard Griffiths.... they're all wonderful.
It's so English and funny and smart and brilliant. I may not be in favour of Grammar Schools, having been to one, but I do wish that education could be as brilliant for everyone even if their parents don't have money.
Some seem to have forgotten how much humour is in the play - and the fact that it IS, first and foremost, a play. People who maybe didn't realise this when they bought it are bound to be at least puzzled, if not disappointed. I wish, wish, wish I had seen it on stage with this cast. There is nothing like live theatre - and the film is of course nothing like live theatre: but that doesn't mean it isn't a good film.
I love it, the clever script, the singing, the talent of all the actors, the humour and pathos. I fear it will be blacklisted now, after the Jimmy Savile scandal and Operation Yewtree. And I have to admit, I wouldn't be at all happy with a teacher behaving this way with my 17 year-old son, and I don't know how to reconcile that - the way the boys are able to deal with it so phlegmatically is interesting and worthy of debate. In spite of this concern, I thoroughly enjoyed it from start to finish (and no doubt will again - and again), but can understand it won't appeal to all tastes.
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