February 14th, 2015

bah

The History Boys

I've never quite understood why we expect greater realism in the cinema- where we're watching shadows perform on a sheet- than we do in the theatre- where we're in the presence of flesh and blood actors- but that's the way it is. Turning a play script into a movie almost always creates problems and here's a case in point. Bennett's dialogue is very verbal, very stylised. No-one talks this brilliantly in real life- and certainly not a bunch of adolescents. The imposed realism of film works to alienate us from the script's theatricality.

I understand we're supposed to be in the 1980s. Well, perhaps. Actually, we seem to be in a platonic, wibbly-wobbly present that could be any time in the past half century. Bennett the playwright isn't interested in getting the period detail right but the film makers feel they have to try- and so there's dislocation. Would 1980s schoolboys- even under the influence of a charismatic teacher- have sung Jerome Kern for pleasure and memorised scenes from Now Voyager and Brief Encounter? Unlikely. In the never-time of theatre these things matter as little as the town clock striking the hour in Julius Caesar; on film, well, such questions arise.

Also one can't help noticing that the "boys" are all in their twenties.

Still,  still, stiill, the bones of the play show through. And it's a good play- dazzlingly intelligent-  a wickedly witty symposium- in which points of view and aspects of character flicker, catch the light, clash and plunge back into shadow. As a play it will almost certainly go on being revived- and the revivals will render this passable record of its first production redundant- except- except that we're not going to get Richard Griffiths back- and here he is- the first ever Hector- in a career-defining performance that's now fixed forever- setting the standard against which all future Hectors are bound to be measured.