The History Boys

09Jun08

But to put something in context is a step towards saying it can be understood and that it can be explained. And if it can be explained then it can be explained away.

The above lines are uttered by a somewhat socially inept homosexual Jew student when the Holocaust is discussed in class. The History Boys is a film filled with ideas and yet turns out to be the funniest film I’ve seen in ages; it treads that fine line between irreverence and seriousness and manages to come off unscathed.

Two teachers — the young Tom Irwin who believes history should be taught objectively (“Looking back, immediately in front of us is dead ground. We don’t see it, and because we don’t see it this means that there is no period so remote as the recent past.”) and Hector who possesses a slightly more subjective and emotional world view and cares deeply about how knowledge (no matter how useless) is applied to life — vie for the hearts and minds of a bunch of brilliant yet rowdy students destined for the likes of Cambridge and Oxford. The movie is an excised version of the award-winning play of the same name and almost all actors reprise their roles brilliantly.

The History Boys is not cinema in the classical sense but an occasionally long-winded discourse on the importance of education and knowledge and the differences between the two. To top it off, it turns out to be a lot of fun in the process and not at all tedious like one would expect. There is something about British wryness and self deprecation that exudes a sense of intelligence and class, something you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else.

The film portrays Hector, a closet homosexual who occasionally gropes his students (and ruefully exclaims, “The transmission of knowledge is in itself an erotic act.”) in a rather sympathetic yet slightly parodic light. Almost all the characters are caricatures of people you’d come across and everyone has at least one redeeming quality. Character flaws are merely human failings that are to be accepted and not changed. It isn’t everyday you come across a film that stresses more on individualism than social conformism.

The performances are downright brilliant, the energy is infectious and the score, peppered with tracks from the 80s adds to the fun. Even if some of the literary and historical references went over my head, this is a film I’d highly recommend; one that gets better with repeated viewings.

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5 Responses to “The History Boys”

  1. Sounds very good. I will look into it… 🙂

  2. Great review. As always, anything that gives you goosebumps, is immediately put for download on my computer.

  3. Take it you never read the play? The movie felt kind of disappointing to me having done so… but agree, great performances, especially Stephen Cambell Moore (Irwin) who’ll be one to watch!

    – LD
    /found your blog via Kalafudra’s – hope you don’t mind me butting in here!

  4. @liberrydwarf I haven’t seen or read the play yet but intend on doing so very soon.

    PS You can butt in whenever you like. 🙂


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