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17 January, 2007

Review: 'The History Boys' (2006)

I don't know.
I'm sure it was an excellent stage play, but film is a rather different medium, and a direct transfer (rather than translation) of the former into the latter came across as far too contrived.  I don't exactly object to cerebral content in films, but this lacked subtlety, and seemed merely clever.

For a large proportion of the film, I thought it drastically too wordy and hence superficial, with incredible (literally, not credible) dialogue failing to convey any real intimacy. A very English apparent sterility, perhaps.
It didn't help that the characters were similarly stylised. I've certainly never encountered eighteen-year-olds so knowledgeable, self-assured or even simply so motivated.
However, as in most of Alan Bennett's writing, one was given isolated glimpses of deeper emotion through the intellectual barrier, and by the end I'd been at least partly drawn in to appreciate the central characters as people. By that point I was was wondering* whether the under-emoted approach hadn't been correct from the start.
Well; almost by the end. Without revealing too much, there were two false endings, which suddenly reimposed the contrived structure and as A. said, schmaltz. I feel the first 'extension' could have been simply omitted without harming the story, and the epilogue probably worked better in the theatre.

Overall, I think I enjoyed it, despite my frustration. I'd have adapted the material very differently (if I had the ability!), turning it from a stage-play-on-location into a 'proper' film. It was disappointing that every aspect of the film could have been portrayed equally well on stage – an opportunity to do more was missed.
That said, I can't work out what I'd do differently.

*: Reading this review, I'd be tempted to tell myself to stop over-analysing and just lose myself in the film. However, that's precisely the point: the very fact that I was consciously analysing it whilst watching is some indication of the film's failure to properly absorb me.


Don't worry, Mark Kermode said something pretty similar - and he's a legend.

Posted by Jan B at January 18, 2007 11:07 PM
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