For some reason, this film’s author, Alan Bennett (official National Treasure) is regarded as a bit cosy and safe. Presumably, this is by people who don’t take the time to listen to the frankness and intelligence of his writing. He’s also very adept at the pithy one-liner and there are plenty of these in The History Boys, which is by turns rather moving and very funny indeed.
The titular History Boys are a group of 6th formers selected for additional tuition in order to prepare them for the Oxbridge entrance exam. The film considers how certain teachers can be hugely influential in the development of young student minds, but is also in no doubt that these are individual and worldly-wise young men, ready to take on the world. Sometimes, the teacher may not necessarily be the best personal role model (ie the slightly predatory homosexual teacher played by Richard Griffiths – reminding me of a lecturer from my university who was well-known to try it on with all the male students) but can still be inspirational in opening doors to new avenues of knowledge.
In many ways, the film’s looking at an era of English education that was disappearing even in the late 70s. As the obsessions with league tables and testing took hold, the value of a broad education for its own sake seems to have been lost. In that sense, the film has a sense of nostalgia to it, but there’s also a real underlying anger and loss in the writing.
The film does bears traces of its origins in the theatre and the cast is largely the same ensemble that toured with the theatre production. Actually, this really cements the whole film – the boys really do have a ‘gang’ feel and the performances are of a very high standard throughout.
The teens in my household also seem to have taken to this film, which gives me some hope…