Part school days nostalgia trip, part gay-themed drama Alan Bennett's The History Boys won endless awards when it hit The National Theatre. Cut'n'pasted to the big screen - same director, same cast - it's kept all its probing, comic smarts. Richard Griffiths plays inspired and inspiring English teacher Hector, who clashes with young supply teacher Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore) while coaching Sixth Formers for Oxbridge entrance exams. As stuffy tradition meets modern technique, lessons will be learned.
The clash of the masters is academic; at least until Hector's caught groping one of the boys (hands on teaching perhaps?) and Bennett's classroom drama is suddenly laced with dark longing and sexual desire. It lets this teacher-pupil drama cut deeper than the insipid platitudes of Dead Poet's Society. Think Grange Hill rewritten by WH Auden: slightly fusty but wickedly witty.
"THE YOUNG CLASS GET TOP MARKS"
Little is gained by uprooting this play from the stage, but nothing's lost either. The young cast get top marks for battling Bennett's improbably middle aged dialogue while Richard Griffiths - once Uncle Monty in Withnail & I - gives Hector gravitas (and a 60 inch waistline). Elsewhere, Frances de la Tour plays a deadpan history teacher ("How depressing it is to teach five centuries of masculine ineptitude") and Clive Merrison pitches his conniving headmaster somewhere between Gollum and Mr Burns from The Simpsons. It's a mark of how high this movie sets the bar that these actors can't steal the show. Like the Oxbridge entrance exams the pupils sit, such excellence is expected, not exceptional.