The History Boys

 
Play-turned-movie grapples with sexuality, life.
  • Review Date: April 16, 2007
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2006
  • Running Time: 104 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Characters lie and cheat to get ahead; students have a decidedly un-hysterical repsonse to a teacher's sexual advances toward them; Muslim student must instruct his peers and teachers what being Muslim means; Jewish student suggests that being Jewish limits his options ("I'm a Jew, I'm small, I live in Sheffield, I'm f--ked"). The boys and their teachers honestly care about each other, but their relationships are complex.

Violence

References to historical wars (shell shock, memorials, friendly fire); off-screen traffic accident results in a character's death and another's injury.

Sex

Thematic focus on homosexual teachers/students negotiating their interests in each other; a teacher has a propensity for fondling students' "thighs" one student has affair with female secretary (one scene shows them in bed, in underwear); students act out a scene in a bordello to practice French, and one boy drops his pants, showing boxers. Reference to "foreskin" some sexual slang ("wanker," "c--t," "nancy," "balls," "dick"). Characters proposition each other.

Language

Several uses of "f--k" (10+), plus other language, like "s--t" (5+), and some colorful phrasing ("piss my life away"). British slang.

Consumerism
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Student smokes cigarettes; students pretend to smoke cigarettes to act out a scene from Now, Voyager; champagne drinking in celebration.

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.

Parents say

Not yet rated
Review this title!

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?

QUALITY
 

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."

Families can talk 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?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:November 21, 2006
DVD release date: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.

This review of The History Boys was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

Quality

Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

About our buy links

When you use our links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. Thank you for your support.
Read more

See more about how we rate and review.

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Teen, 14 years old Written byfanoffilms June 5, 2014
age 12+
 

A Sadly Underrated Gem Containing Strong Language And Mature Themes

This film is rated 15 in the UK, which I honestly don't think was necessary. It does contain a lot of bad language, including several usages of the word 'c*nt', but you know us Brits love to swear. I think the thing that most people take offence at is the homosexual content - one character, David Posner, is explicitly gay, and several other characters are implied to be at least bisexual. The sexual content is about what you'd expect from a 12-rated film - there are some quite frank discussions of sexuality, but there's no explicit imagery or nudity. However, the film does not shy away from ephebophilic relationships between teachers and the 18-year-old students (at the time the film is set, the age of consent for homosexual sex would have been 21, however, nowadays, the age of consent is 16, 18 if one party is in a 'position of trust', like a teacher). One teacher, Hector, routinely gropes his students, which is treated as a harmless eccentricity (although he does suffer consequences for his actions) and a (young) male teacher and male student struggle with their desire for one another, although nothing comes out of it. The film deals with a lot of tough themes and has very sad, poignant moments, including a sad ending, but never loses its razor wit, managing to be thought-provoking while still being funny. It includes lots of references to literature and history that make my inner nerd squeal with joy, which might go over the heads of some viewers (mainly adults who haven't looked at a history book in years). The film is almost brutal in its deconstruction of teacher character archetypes, such as the 'Cool Teacher' and the 'Strict Teacher', although some viewers may be bored by its 'talky' nature and find the themes challenging to understand. This is, without a doubt, my favourite film, and I definitely think that more people should watch it, but it may not be appropriate for younger viewers.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Teen, 14 years old Written bylin2211 April 9, 2008
age 0+
 

very confusing...

I didn't understand it at all.. I understood the basic parts of the story but when it ended I felt like I was missing something, which led me to believe that there is something deeper that I didn't grasp
Teen, 14 years old Written byMoviegirl100 June 7, 2014
age 14+
 

A bit weird....

I watched this film recently, (mainly because Dominic Cooper was in it) and I was quite disappointed. There's a gay character who has a crush on one of classmates who isn't interested in him. There is a lot of sexual talk, more than what you see. There wasn't much point in the film, I didn't grasp the plot except for a group of boys trying to get into Oxford.
What other families should know
Too much sex

Poll

Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?

Digital Compass