HEADLINES

Monday, October 16, 2006

History Boys - Rose-tinted spectacles


Alan Bennett’s play The History Boys might have been praised to the skies, but the just- released film version has received at the very best mixed reviews. I had not seen the production at the National, but had gathered that it had satisfying elements which condemned the gimmicky re-writings of modish TV historians and approved of the traditional ways of passing on culture and history.

If so, then these are completely lost in this muddled, unfocused and, it seems to me, utterly unrealistic screen version. The central conflict between the methods of the much loved Hector (Richard Griffiths) and those of a newly arrived young, slick and would-be iconoclastic new teacher (Stephen Campbell Moore) is lost under random plot threads and a heavy emphasis on homoeroticism.

The film also does a bit of history re-writing itself in this regard. The depiction of a group of Yorkshire 6th form grammar school boys being utterly at ease with questions of sexuality and camp play-acting is ridiculous, especially when the scenario is set more than twenty years ago. None of them are angry at being groped by Hector, and Dakin, the class lothario, switches from skirt-chasing to gay seduction without any hint of surprise (indeed, with awed admiration) from his classmates. I attended a traditional grammar school only a few years before the film is set, and I have to say, to have been amongst such enlightened and accepting teenagers is something which I could only have experienced in my wildest dreams.

Film has a way of exposing phoniness, and what might have been acceptable as a suspension of disbelief on the stage just appears ludicrous here.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I did see this (excellent) production on stage, but have yet to see it in the cinema.

I will go to see it, but I have been expecting exactly what you have detailed above.

Stage doesn't have to be realistic. If screen gets too close to reality, but doesn't quite make it there (deliberately or not!), then it flops.

"I attended a traditional grammar school only a few years before the film is set, and I have to say, to have been amongst such enlightened and accepting teenagers is something which I could only have experienced in my wildest dreams."

I began attending a traditional northern boys' grammar school about 10 years after the play was set. The teenagers there were not even vaguely approaching this state of enlightenment and acceptance then! Again, if they were, I would have been a much happier man!

ukpaul said...

Rather than expose the play's limitations in some way I would contend that it exposes cinema's limitations. The play was discursive, propmpted debate and, yes, was unreal in a way that theatre can cope with.

I approach the film with trepidation as filming a stage play is akin to taking a polaroid of a sculpture.