Movie Review: “The History Boys” (2006)

Ken Painter By Ken Painter, 17th Sep 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Reviews>Film & TV>Drama

Classroom movies can often focus on bumble-headed teachers and idiotic principals (i.e. escapist fantasy comedy) which may satisfy some, but usually miss the mark. "The History Boys" offers a far different look inside the classroom than I've ever seen portrayed on the big screen.

Movie Review: “The History Boys” (2006)

Being a teacher, I’ve long been drawn to movies which take place in the classroom. One of my top-ten favorites surely has to be Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society (1989) and another from 1995 is Mr. Holland’s Opus with Richard Dreyfuss in the title role as a high school band instructor. For their efforts, both actors won Academy Award nominations in those years for Best Actor though neither went on to win. I can attest to the fact that there are enough dramas in classrooms around the world to fill many more movies for years to come for which many, many more fine actors such as these may continue to be nominated.

One such film which has become an absolute all-time favorite of mine is The History Boys (2006) based on the stage play of the same name. This emotionally charged dramady (drama with comedic elements) treads the fine balance among pathos and anger and comedy for the characters it portrays. Taking place in 1983 in a boys’ grammar (prep) school in Sheffield, England, the action centers around a group of young men hoping to enter either Oxford or Cambridge University when they graduate. They have recently obtained scores that put them in position to do such, but the action focuses on their General Studies teacher “Hector” (Richard Griffiths who was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for this role and will be recognized by audiences from the Harry Potter movies as Harry’s Uncle Vernon) who is their favorite because he digresses from the regular curriculum to enhance his point and their regular History teacher, Mrs. Lintott (Frances de la Tour also from the Harry Potter movies).

The headmaster hires a contract teacher, Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore who portrayed the same part in the original stage play) to assist Hector and Lintott in preparing the boys for their entrance exams. Irwin is young and barely out of grad school, and his teaching style is different from the older pair, thus a source of some conflict.

Hector is an old and obese man who rides a motorcycle to and from school each day, and he gives lifts home in the afternoon to those of the boys who are willing to accept them. On these rides, Hector “fondles” them, touching them up. The boys look upon this with sadness, but they adore the old man, and so merely like kicking the ball around on the soccer field, they each resignedly take turns amusing him with the rides home. Eventually though one of these incidents gets observed by a school crossing guard and is reported to the headmaster. Hector is to be forcibly retired at the end of term. I won’t spoil the ending with more. It’s all too good to be missed.

This movie has gay overtones, because as it also turns out Mr. Irwin is gay as is one of the students, Posner though the issue is dealt with lovingly and touchingly. All I can say is I have tears in several spots.

I like movies which leave me with an absolutely unforgettable line, movies like Casablanca (“Here’s looking at you, Kid.”) and Fried Green Tomatoes (“The secret’s in the sauce.”). Well, The History Boys is no exception. When one of the boys, the inarticulate Peter Rudge (played to deadpan perfection by new British star Russell Tovey) was asked the question during his entrance exams “What does History mean to you?” he offered his most awesome reply (which a Social Studies teacher like me can really appreciate), “Well . . . It’s just one fucking thing after another, isn’t it?”

And on that note I’ll just say you really, really must see this film. At the end you may be a little bit teary-eyed, but I believe you’ll be satisfied. After all, that’s all history really is, isn’t it, just one fucking thing after another?


Classroom, Film Review, Films, Movie, Movie Review, Movie Reviews, Movies, Review, Reviews, Teacher, Teachers, Teaching, Teaching Children, Teaching Methods

Meet the author

author avatar Ken Painter
Retired Chicago public school teacher. Singer, songwriter, musician, author, & opinionated old curmudgeon. Married to my husband & living in Colorado, USA. Also a father & grandfather.

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