The 2006 film, The History Boys, based on a play of the same name, holds up nearly a decade later as a triumph of storytelling, casting and acting.
Both written by Alan Bennett, the play and screen adaptations tell the story of a group of eight high school senior boys in England as they prepare for the exams and interviews that will grant them admission to England’s top tier universities, Oxford and Cambridge.
The story focuses around the arrival of a new teacher, “Irwin” (Stephen Campbell Moore), who is hired to make the boys well rounded candidates for the universities. The boys’ other teachers, “Hector”(Richard Griffiths) and “Mrs. Lintott” (Frances de la Tour) work alongside Irwin as the boys study mainly history and English in preparation for the upcoming tests.
The whip-smart dialogue makes for rich scenes with intellectually stimulating content while giving each boy a chance to build a complex and unique character. The group dynamic is fueled not only by the esoteric banter, but also by the fast-paced humor and theatrical interactions of the boys.
The film format allows even a few frames of eye contact to reveal exponential meaning and intricate character relationships. On a surface level, the film appears to be a simple but sharp comedy, when in fact the story tackles some of education and life’s most daunting questions.
The boys, many of whom have reached mainstream American fame by now, deliver stunning performances throughout the film.
The original cast of the play also takes on the roles in the film adaptation, bringing a deft physicality to the performances that only a couple hundred live performances can hone with such detail. The meticulous writing allows this cast of 10 men to explore complexities of masculinity in a direct and refreshingly honest manner.
It is almost impossible to watch this film only once. As the credits begin to roll, the temptation to restart the whole thing is difficult to resist. From the opening scene, full of celebration and energy, to the closing scene, this group of actors reaches through the screen, at times laughing with the audience and at times holding their hand.
The History Boys challenges its viewers to laugh, read, think, and empathize more every day, making any rental fees worth every single penny.