The play’s the thing in The History Boys. Unlike most stage-to-screen transitions, Nicholas Hytner assembled the entire original cast for the celluloid version of Alan Bennett’s award-winning work. (The two previously joined forces for The Madness of King George.) As in Hytner’s National Theatre production, a group of Sheffield sixth-form boys, Timms (James Corden), Lockwood (Andrew Knott), Rudge (Russell Tovey), Scripps (Jamie Parker), Crowther (Samuel Anderson), Akhtar (Sacha Dhawan), Posner (Samuel Barnett), and Dakin (Dominic Cooper)–the latter two standouts–spend an extra term in 1983 preparing for their Oxbridge exams. Hector (Richard Griffiths) and Dorothy Lintott (Frances de la Tour) are their regular instructors (both performances garnered Tony Awards), while Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore, Bright Young Things) is the enigmatic new history teacher. The Headmaster (Clive Merrison) brings him on board to lend the precocious lads “polish.” Irwin, however, is more interested in encouraging them to think creatively–not merely to recite facts. The boys just want to get into Oxford and Cambridge. If that means withstanding the occasional grope from Hector and harsh word from Irwin, so be it. In the end, which boy gets in where isn’t insignificant, but Bennett’s greater concern is what they learn along the way. If Hytner isn’t always successful in reconciling the intellectual with the more earthbound, The History Boys is one of the funniest films yet about Britain’s educational system–and education in general. —Kathleen C. Fennessy
I watched this exclusively because I watched 4 seasons of Episodes and the premise of the show was that they were remaking the British hit History Boys for American television. History Boys isn’t a television show, but a movie and I can’t say I liked it. I am always a big fan of educational underdog stories, but this one rubbed me a bit the wrong way because of a professional impropriety by one of the beloved characters. I found the rest of the story a little flat too. And my petty complaint was that they had a movie set in Sheffield, England in 1983 and they didn’t put a Def Leppard song on the soundtrack? What’s up with that? Watch at your own risk.