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The History Boys

Nicholas Hytner


The History Boys
Directed by: Nicholas Hytner
(Fox Searchlight)
The History Boys is set in an ever-so-British world, in which preparing for the entrance examinations to Oxford and Cambridge is worth attending an extra semester of school. The film follows several boys who set about doing just that. But the movie isn't as much about this preparation process as the learning that takes place during it. The film initially appears to set up a dichotomy between the boys' two main teachers. Aged Hector prizes knowledge for its own sake; young Irwin teaches the art of the flashy essay, in which form is more important than content. But the film's more complicated than this exposition suggests, and its characters more human. The History Boys is based on a Tony-winning play by Alan Bennett, who also wrote the screenplay. This is likely why the film's script is as strong as it is, but it's also where its biggest flaw comes from. In the movie's final scene, its actors suddenly begin playing future versions of their characters. It's interesting, but annoying, effective as it may have been on stage. Film and theatre are distinctly different and the best stage-to-screen adaptations alter the story at hand to suit the new medium. The History Boys doesn't always do this, so it's merely a decent movie. But I bet it was a kick-ass play.
Lindsay McCarney

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