Monday, January 19, 2009

'The History Boys' - A Good Film from a Good Play

The Characters: Lockwood (Andrew Knott), Dakin (Dominic Cooper) and Posner (Samuel Barnett)

It's brave in the current sexual political climate to make a mainstream film about, among other things, sex and the secondary school system - without re-playing the Spanish Inquisition!

'The History Boys' has the creds of being based on the Tony award-winning play by Alan Bennett. And perhaps has been made more 'acceptable' still by casting actors obviously in their twenties as the final year British school students.

It puts the other side of things - that late teenagers have sexual awareness and desire, and that a teacher can become infatuated with his student. Without in any way condoning sex between students or between them and their educators. As Samuel Barnett (the Posner character) has reiterated in interview.

The film also explores the issues around the function and process of education, mainly by counter-pointing safer conventional approaches and propositions with the more risky quirky, slick, off-beat, glibe, often self-consciously controversial ones. A lovely example realizing the latter 'playing the education game' is a progressive teacher's suggestion to make the argument in an Oxbridge entrance essay for Stalin being a great man.

A well-structured piece of drama. A great script. And a really good cast. 

Dominic Cooper is the student Dakin - dark, teasing, cocky, provocative and self-possessed and aware. Idolising his 23 year old teacher, Irvin (Stephen Campbell Moore) - declaring he'd 'never wanted to please anyone more than him ... girls not excepted'. With this essentially straight character wishing at the end of the film to reward his mentor - in an offer to be sucked off. A date is planned but does not eventuate.

The piece is obviously from the theatre and there has been the wise choice of maintaining that style of dialogue delivery - rather big and slightly exaggerated with those pauses between lines that seem somewhat unnatural away from the stage. It would probably disturb the original script too much to be more realistic.

And there has been the fortuitous selection of the lietmotif music of 'Bewitched (Bothered and Bewildered)' - sung originally by Rufus Wainwright and in this clip by the Lockwood character.

If you're interested in momentarily re-visiting this part of your life and all its issues, this piece is very well worth the look. I've looked several times already!!!

Anyone else seen it?

What were your reactions?


  1. I did see this film! Rented it. Watched it a couple of times. Remarkable in how the characters interacted within the limits of there relationships.

  2. Watch out for the young British actors in this film. Their talents are extraordinary.

    Bennett's sense of history is tremendous too.

    And don't forget that performance of Nigel Hawthorne in the Madness of King George, what a tour de force!

  3. It's one of the few movies I dragged my fat ass out of the house to see and I thought it was wonderful. I especially liked the ending. (No spoiler alert).

    The relationship between Dakin and Irvin is not as benign as you make it sound. It is actually a power struggle between straight and gay. In this context it is the inferior Dakin using the gay professor to achieve his needs (which are what make him inferior)and then declaring his superiority in the form of his confident sexuality, the professor tossed aside, after a lengthy courtship ritual, like an unused condom.

    Alan down in Florida

  4. I saw both the play in Sydney (with largely the same cast) and the film and loved them both.

    My only disappointment with the film was that the actor playing the headmaster in the film overplayed his role in a way that the stage actor didn't and made the character sillier.

  5. hey teleny

    the actors ARE very good - no duds or compromises here

    glad to know others have responded to it as i did

    and continue to do - can't seem to stop watching it!

    take care


  6. hey alan,

    yep, worth leaving the couch for - even if momentarily - feel the same tho the smell of that italian leather beckons me back - only momnetarily

    i agree with you to a degree about the relationship between Dakin and Irwin - but it i think it's more complex still - as life really is - Dakin idolizes Irwin - why otherwise would the playwright have had him say 'i never wanted to please anyone more than him ... girls not excepted'.

    people have contradictory motivations - and i think one of the successes of the play is that is doesn't just do it simple

    glad you liked it - seems as much as i did!

    do you think you could you see it again?

    have a good one - be in touch


  7. hey victor

    i agree - the headmaster character played it as farce - which seemed out of style with the approach of the rest of the cast

    he ended up as a one-dimension 'villan' - such narrowness is the usual effect of farce

    take care


  8. hey wit

    it IS a 2-plus watch!

    and clever in it's exploration of the limits within certain kinds of relationships - very hard to carry off - beautifully done here - in the way in which things are said UNDER the surface meanings of the dialogue

    keep in touch


  9. Love the movie and Samuel Barnett as Posner, who I really related to (except for the showtunes part!). His "summing up" of how ended up is beautiful and sad. His final line --"I'm not happy, but I'm not unhappy about it"-- perfectly sums up my life. Great acting, brilliant dialogue and lovely scenery, both in the changing rooms and outdoors.

  10. Nick -

    Yes I could watch it again. Get your plane ticket and I'll make the popcorn.

    Alan down in Florida

  11. hey alan

    ready - even have the coke to wash the popcorn down - and to wet out throats after all the yelling we'll be doing!

    i fancy doing another post on it - but hesitating cos not sure if it'd be over-kill!

    something about the central characters - stuff i thought might be too controversial

    mmm - more thought about this!

    be in touch


  12. hey henry

    yep, the ending works so well - has me in tears each time

    didn't want to talk about it and spoil it for those going to see the movie

    but maybe i'll do another post on it and tell all!

  13. History Boys is now on cable, and I have watched it over and over. I find something new to appreciate each time. Rodgers and Hart probably could never have imagined "Bewitched" in this setting, but it's perfect.

  14. hey anon

    that's good to know about cable! i got it mailed out from my online video rental store - it's hard to send back!

    i would hate to say many times i've watched it for the same reason you have - there's lots there still to be discovered - a rich theatre script

    and yep, the song is perfect for the movie - the lyrics seems to have been written for it!

  15. Saw this at a late night screening for the Industry on the Sony Pictures Lot in Los Angeles. With the cast and director onstage for a Q&A afterwards. Granted they were exhausted - there'd already been a screening and Q&A earlier - but the fact is they were generally bemused by the lack of awareness among the industry 'types' in the audience as to who Alan Bennett actually is - and don't forget that the title of Bennett's marvellous play "The Madness of George III" was changed to "Madness of King George" for the US market because test audiences thought it was Part 3 of an obscure British Horror movie franchise!! (That is indeed a true story).

  16. hey iain

    LOL - thanks for the great (true!) story

    i guess there's always a bit of adjustment across cultures

    wonder if, like those expecting horror from 'george 111', test audiences watching this film were waiting for a history of boys from ancient times to now! never underestimate!

    LOL again!