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History Boys, The


Stars: Richard Griffiths, Frances de la Tour, Stephen Campbell Moore, Clive Merrison

Director: Nicholas Hytner

Wittily written outside its duller patches, this is a film version of Alan Bennett's hit play, set in 1983 and scripted by Bennett himself, about a group of bright 18-year-old grammar school boys hoping to go to Oxford or Cambridge.

The headmaster (rather overplayed by Merrison) decides that they're clever but crass and, unimpressed by the light-hearted methods of cuddly English and general studies teacher Hector (Griffiths), brings in the younger Irwin (Campbell Moore), who favours spin and winning over traditional learning to give the boys an edge.

Irwin who, like Hector, is gay, wins the boys over, but strangely his character fades towards the end as he becomes less sure of himself.

Although the film is ostensibly about conflicting teaching methods, it's really about sex, and specifically gay sex. The boys regard Hector's fumbling of their genitals as a joke - 'I think it was more appreciative than investigatory.' says Mrs Lintott (the treasurable de la Tour) - but it may be enough to get Hector the sack...

This is the kind of script where everyone has a smart answer (or four-letter word) for everything and, despite some genuinely funny lines - 'Durham University,' recalls de la Tour, 'was where I had my first pizza. Other things, or course, but it's the pizza that stands out' - the action remains at a distance.

And masters never swore freely with pupils at my school, but that's progressive education for you. Griffiths and de la Tour are outstanding, and most of the boys are pretty good, too, especially when brilliantly performing 'extracts' from Brief Encounter and Pal Joey.

David Quinlan

UK 2006. UK Distributor: 20th Century Fox. Fujicolor.
112 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 3.

Review date: 09 Oct 2006