The History Boys is a highly successful and multi-award winning play from London's West End, and it's probably a no brainer in adapting it for the silver screen to reach out to even more people out there. But instead of being just another adaptation, what probably is rare is that the original cast of the production gets recruited for this effort, together with Alan Bennett as scribe for the screenplay, ensuring legitimacy and authenticity.
We follow a group of 8 male students immediately after their A-Level results release, as they get selected to undergo one more special semester of tutoring for their entrance exams to the prestigious universities of Oxford and Cambridge. The charm here lies in the very diverse nature of all the boys, though a common attribute they all have is they're extremely intelligent, with a wicked sense of bawdy humour and wit to boot. In short, your unexpected rascals who know their stuff. But not all 8 get equal screentime though, with more dedicated to alpha-male Dakin (Dominic Cooper), the effeminate Posner (Samuel Barnett) and thuggish Rudge (Russell Tovey).
They share a special affinity for their General Studies teacher Hector (Richard Griffiths), whose laissez-faire style is thoroughly enjoyed by the boys, and is the kind of teaching class you'll probably come to enjoy too if you're in it. And in a warped way, their cemented ties is one dark secret which if revealed, would enforce certain changes in the class.
Enter Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore), a history graduate whose maverick techniques the boys have to get used to, in order to ace the exams. I find it quite peculiar the way his advice turns out, a stark reminder that hard facts that everyone else knows is never enough. You got to spice it up, be controversial even, if the need calls for it. In short, be something like a spin doctor, spice up reports, essays, interviews, the works. Packaging is key, and that I thought was quite true in how we deal in real life at times.
And the styles and techniques of the two teachers come to a clash of sorts, but never too confrontational. It's something like Dead Poet's Society without the carpe diem moments, but presents the kind of admiration and respect that the students have for their teachers, and vice versa, coupled with plenty of witty dialogue and as the story develops, moments of heartfelt situations as well.
Peppered with an eclectic soundtrack, the story at times felt loaded with lead. And for one who have never seen the play or read much about it, the last act came as a surprise, and with brilliant editing in transition, it struck me as something quite different, and wrapped up the movie quite perfectly, albeit the unexpected happening. The closing credits too were well done, and I thought I actually surprised myself by remembering these technical details rather than the story.
Inspirational? Perhaps. Witty? Sure. But somehow it lacked the oomph to propel it to greatness in my books.