The History Boys
Play-turned-movie grapples with sexuality, life.
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that kids, even older teens, probably won't be very interested in this small, talky British film based on Alan Bennett's award-winning play. Several central characters -- both students and teachers -- are homosexual and struggling with their desires. Treated in a mature way, this theme is addressed through clever, occasionally explicit dialogue (but no graphic imagery). The movie doesn't outright condemn the teachers' desire or suggest that the boys are damaged when one awkward instructor regularly "handles their nuts." In one scene, a student takes off his trousers (you see boxers) to act out a skit in class; in another, he's in bed with a female secretary (they're talking, post-sex, no explicit nudity). A fatal traffic accident occurs off-screen, and characters mourn the resulting death. Characters smoke and use "f--k" and strong other language.
A brilliant film. Yes, it's for young adults, too.
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What's the Story?
Much as Hector (Richard Griffiths) enjoys his work, which he sees as opening young minds to new ideas, the affable teacher at Cutler's Grammar School in Sheffield, England, feels frustrated. A not-so-closeted gay man, he admires his young male students in ways he's not supposed to. His students appreciate his entertainments, as well as his appreciation of them. In exchange, over the years they've learned to take turns allowing him to touch their "thighs" during rides home on his motorbike. The boys' grades are good enough that they might get into Oxford and Cambridge, so the headmaster (Clive Merrison) brings in an additional teacher to give them "polish and edge." The much younger, Cambridge-educated Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore) teaches by a different method. Where Hector wants the boys to feel invested in what they learn, Irwin suggests that they take adversarial positions just to look smart, whether they believe them or not.
Is It Any Good?
Set in 1983, THE HISTORY BOYS has a certain stagey feel: Characters speak in perfectly overlapping dialogue and clever quips. For the most part, the boys are a collection of token types: rowdy playboy Dakin (Dominic Cooper), gay and sensitive Posner (Samuel Barnett), black Crowther (Samuel Anderson), Muslim Akhtar (Sacha Dhawan), white jock Rudge (Russell Tovey), wisecracking Lockwood (Andrew Knott), overweight Timms (James Coden). While each offers an occasional pithy observation to sum up a moment (the most memorable being Rudge's remark that history is "just one f--king thing after another"), as a group, they seem like the result of a one-from-every-food-group casting call.
Surveying the proceedings from the position designated "outside" by virtue of her gender, history teacher Dorothy Lintott (the excellent Frances de la Tour, who, like Griffiths, has also been seen in the Harry Potter movies) lays out the film's simultaneous awareness and exploitation of its own limits. "Imagine how depressing it is to teach five centuries of masculine ineptitude," she declares. "History is not such a frolic for women as it is for men. ... History is women following behind, with a bucket."
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the differences between the students' and teachers' ambitions. How do the boys learn to make use of their two teachers' different styles of learning? How do the boys "come of age" in different ways? Also, how does the movie show multiple points of view through conversations and camerawork? And how do the movie's dialogue and staging show that it was based on a play? How is the movie's treatment of its characters' homosexuality similar to and different from the way sexuality is addressed in other movies and TV shows?
- In theaters: November 21, 2006
- On DVD or streaming: April 17, 2007
- Cast: Dominic Cooper, Richard Griffiths, Stephen Campbell Moore
- Director: Nicholas Hytner
- Studio: Fox Searchlight
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 104 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language and sexual content.
- Last updated: March 31, 2022
Our Editors Recommend
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Inspiring, intense story of a teacher and his students.
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Some mature content, but fine for many teens.
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Sidney Poitier at his best; teens and up.
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