If you like your British movies quick, raunchy, reflective and bittersweet, then The History Boys is for you. Based on the highly successful play, the film was produced during a break between theatrical engagements and retains its original writer, director and cast. Alan Bennett, the writer who previously collaborated with director Nicholas Hytner on The Madness of King George, brings to the screen a sharply whimsical exploration into the purpose of knowledge, performance and hormones.
Taking the industrial wasteland of 1983's Sheffield as its backdrop, the film follows eight boys on the verge of entering college. They're up for scholarships at either Oxford or Cambridge, so the boys take an extra semester for additional instruction while preparing for the highly competitive entrance exams. Clever, wild and cocky, they're entertaining from the moment they walk on screen.
Their instructors include the eccentric Hector (Richard Griffiths), whose lessons in 'general studies' include reenactments of old Bette Davis movies and the singing of showtunes. Dripping with poetic romanticism, Hector believes that knowledge is to be inhaled, experienced and caressed. Sometimes, quite literally. A homosexual, he enjoys taking the more attractive students for rides on his motorbike in order to cop a feel in their nether regions. Dead Poets Society this is not.
The boys engage in wild camaraderie, and there isn't a weak link in this casting. Samuel Barnett is heartbreaking as a baby-faced Jewish homosexual, and Dominic Cooper gives a star-making performance as the cheeky rebel with the bedroom eyes.