the lexicon

a writing portfolio by Alexandra Savvides

The History Boys

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History BoysTake one wildly successful stage play and put it on screen. As easy as that may sound, The History Boys has achieved something that most of its predecessors have failed to do – to be just as good as the original.

Alan Bennett’s award winning stage play has been transformed onto screen with a few minor changes and flourishes to the script, additional characters and new scenes. At the heart of the plot lies a group of eight young school leavers, eager to impress the prestigious Oxbridge selection board. As easy as it would be to pigeonhole each of the boys (there’s the shy, intelligent Posner played by Samuel Barnett and wild, handsome Dakin played by Dominic Cooper to name but a few of the talented ensemble) Bennett’s script allows each and every one to display traits and thoughts beyond what you would expect.

The arrival of new teacher Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore) shakes feathers throughout the class, especially for fellow teacher Hector, played to perfection by Richard Griffiths. Irwin’s teaching methods are compelling, adding embellishments to the retelling of history, but it’s ultimately constructing a version of the past that is deeply entrenched in Irwin’s own beliefs.

Unrequited love and lust plays between sharp literary and filmic references scattered throughout the screenplay, adding humour and poignancy in measured amounts. Without spoiling the fun, make sure to watch out for the brilliant French scene involving the boys play acting, one of the highlights of the film. Frances de la Tour steals some of the wittiest lines in the script, even if her role seems to be more truncated than in the original play.

Though the story is set in 1983, the contemporary resonances still shine through. Sly social commentary on selection boards, the influence of politics on school systems, and the role of history itself in learning all emerge from underneath the film’s exuberant cover – some things never change with time. The rousing score and the filming technique work very well in grounding the story to a particular place and time, even though the themes are universal.

Nicholas Hytner’s understated direction allows the script to showcase the subtle, gentle elements to its character, but at times some scenes tend to last slightly longer than is expected. Whilst these scenes are riveting on stage, when transferred to screen the intimate connection with the live actors is lost. Even so, you don’t need to have any prior knowledge of the play before seeing this film.

Bennett’s message, delivered ever so elegantly by Hector throughout the film, is a compelling and compassionate reason to spend some time with The History Boys. After all, learning is power.

Published on The Program, 4 May 2007

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Written by lexstatic

March 17, 2008 at 6:22 am

Posted in Film Reviews, Reviews

Tagged with ,

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