History is one of my least favorite subjects and I was hesitant to watch The History Boys for fear of being clueless or bored. After testing the movie, I admit there are times when I was clueless (a lengthy scene spoken entirely in French), but I was never ever bored. Set in an English grammar school in 1983, “The History Boys” is about eight smart lads with the potential to get into either Cambridge or Oxford. They are funny, boisterous, cerebral, and entertaining together. Some stand out more than others. Posner (Samuel Barnett) is a bright, musically talented Jew, who has a crush on Dakin (Dominic Cooper), the class’ handsome devil. Scripps (Jamie Parker) is an introverted Christian who plays the piano. Rudge (Russell Tovey) is a jock, out of his element within the intellectual group. Timms (James Corden) is the fat class clown. Akhtar (Sacha Dhawan) is a Muslim teen while Crowther (Samuel Anderson) is the token black guy. Lockwood (Andrew Knott) is, well, the unremarkable eighth student.
On the boys’ final term in school, three teachers tutor them for entrance exams. Mrs. Lintott (Frances de la Tour) is a no-nonsense instructor with a faint feminist point of view. She defines history as “women following behind, with a bucket.” Mr. Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore) is the new teacher, whose specialty is to school students to stand out in essays. He is not satisfied with merely correct answers. He demands interesting writing and out-of-the-box thinking. Finally, there is the rotund Hector (Richard Griffiths), the beloved educator who inspires the boys with poetry, songs, theater, and cinema.
Thankfully, The History Boys is not a two-hour lecture on history. Rather, the movie offers us to look at the world’s history and one’s own in creative ways. The key here is inspiration through arts. Hector lets his students loose through singing, acting, and reciting poetry. It seems to be all fun and games, and yet the boys learn. I hope I did not portray the schoolboys as theatrical pansies. The movie also shows them in stimulating discussions with their teachers. Even if the topics may overwhelm the average thinker, you feel an infectious energy among students with a zest for knowledge. This is thanks to an engaging and youthful cast and a thought-provoking screenplay by playwright Alan Bennett.
My favorite moments are the ones that feel very real to me. While I tend to view history as a bore, I deem head-scratching poetry to be even worse of a torture. It’s no surprise that I love the scene when Timms bangs his head on the desk at the mention of poetry.
“Sir, I don’t always understand poetry,” the class clown groans.
“Timms, I never understand poetry,” Hector confesses, “But learn it now, know it now and you will understand it… whenever.”
So, in a way, understanding poetry takes faith and time. By extension, it also takes faith and time to fully grasp The History Boys. By even bigger extension, this also applies to life. It’s impossible to figure out life now. It only becomes fully realized when you look back on it. When it’s all in the past. When it’s all history.
Richard Griffiths, Frances de la Tour, Stephen Campbell Moore, Clive Merrison, Samuel Barnett, Dominic Cooper, Jamie Parker, and James Corden
Based on the play by
Rated R for language and sexual content