The History Boys Review
by H. Thomas
‘The parallel stories of Hector and Posner truly depict the effects that repression and homophobia have on both the children coming to terms with their identity and the adults who never managed to do so.’
Director: Nicholas Hytner
Cast: Richard Griffiths, Stephen Campbell Moore, Frances de la Tour, Samuel Barnett & Dominic Cooper
The film adaptation of Alan Bennett’s famous play follows the story of a Sheffield school in 1983, and particularly the lives of the eight boys who are attending their seventh term there before trying out for Oxbridge. These boys are all eager to continue their journeys in University, and are ready to attend this last term with their familiar English teacher Hector (Richard Griffiths), who is well-loved by his pupils despite his questionable treatment of them – that is, until new History teacher Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore) shows up, replacing their sole female teacher, Mrs Lintott (Frances de la Tour) and teaching the boys an entirely new way of understanding history and writing their entrance exams. Even with all this on their shoulders, the boys are still finding out about themselves, and we focus on the inner conflict of Posner (Samuel Barnett) – a boy who is coming to terms with being gay and in love with his classmate Dakin (Dominic Cooper), a boy who is easily presumed straight – but with his need to impress Irwin constantly growing, even Dakin isn’t sure of that. The boys must keep working to grasp their own understanding of themselves, their identities, their education and their futures, while their teachers fight to show them that the way that each of them teach is the best way.
There is absolutely a reason that The History Boys was so popular and well-loved as a play, and this film is no exception. Without too much thought, it may seem to be another particularly well-written, comedic coming-of-age story, but with enough attention, the true, important messages of the story shine through. The diverse cast and characters which they play allows the covering of issues with race, religion, gender and sexuality, as well as the complexity of being a student hovering at the end of school and the beginning of university without really being sure where to go next. The parallel stories of Hector and Posner truly depict the effects that repression and homophobia have on both the children coming to terms with their identity and the adults who never managed to do so. The setting of 1980s England, at which time Margaret Thatcher, who was well-known for her outspoken homophobia, was Prime Minister, really drives this message home. Furthermore, the character of Mrs Lintott as the only female main character, and seemingly only female influence in most of the boys’ school lives, also speaks out on the issues that come with being female, particularly throughout history. On top of all this, the conflicting opinions of each of the boys’ teachers and how they constantly strive to be the one who influences their students the most, really does recreate how the teachers who guide students to university shape not only their knowledge but their worldview.
Overall, this film is absolutely fantastic, completely deserving of everything it has been awarded and more, and, even in 2006, was incredibly ahead of its time.
The History Boys is currently available on BBC iPlayer and was rated 15 by the BBFC.