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The story of an unruly class of bright, funny history students at a Yorkshire grammar school in pursuit of an undergraduate place at Oxford or Cambridge. Bounced between their maverick English master, a young and shrewd teacher hired to up their test...
The History Boys is based on Alan Bennett's play of the same name, screenplay written by him, and the entire cast straight out of the stage play (many of them, like Dominic Cooper and James Corden now well-known faces). Think of it as a Dead Poets Society set in the 80s with history rather than literature as the primary focus, though literature does figure into it quite a lot. The language is stylized - you can feel its theatricality - but there's nothing inherently wrong with that, and it might even be personality-driven. On one level, it's about a sea-change in education as competition to get students into prestigious universities took over from simply creating enlightened well-rounded citizens, but its real core is History, what it really is and how it works. Consistently, the boys are asked to question the accepted facts and their moral consequences, to create some distance from events, and we are too. Subplots that put the teachers in too close a relation with their students, while somehow maintaining deep sympathy and even likability for things we should know are disturbing is part of that. What kind of emotional distance can we take from the material as presented? Even the non-historical lessons relate to the ideas of context and subjectivity. The movie asks some great questions, and while I do think think it ends on a needlessly sentimental note, there's at least once scene in here I would watch again and again (the bit about Hardy's poem).
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