`History’ shmistory

Don’t you love it when a celebrated London/Broadway play gets filmed with the original director and original cast? OK, so that hardly ever happens, but it has happend with Alan Bennett’s The History Boys. The play was hyperbolically huzzahed in London, and in New York, it won a ton o’ Tony Awards earlier this year..

Last week (at least in San Francisco), the movie opened, which made me grateful I hadn’t spent money on airplane tickets to either New York or London to see it. But let me say this: I’m sure it’s a much better play than movie.

Not that it’s a bad movie — it’s just trapped somewhere between being a lively (if unrealistic) play and a full-blown movie. As is, it’s stilted and sort of annoying (anytime characters quote from the great poets rather than recite their own dialogue gives me the willies).

Richard Griffiths as the headmaster with a penchant for fondling his male students does the most quote spouting (or gobbet spouting as they say in the movie), and he’s also — I hate to say this about such a lauded performance — irritating as all get out.

Frances de la Tour, on the other hand, is a marvel of control and restraint. She makes the most of a small role and makes us wish Bennett had given her more to do.

What I didn’t realize was that The History Boys was a musical of sorts, which must have been charming on stage. The boys (as part of the cultural learning) sing Rodgers and Hart and Gracie Fields songs (and a sweet “Bye, Bye Blackbird”). And if you stay for the credits, there’s a nice Rufus Wainwright version of “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” with all the funny, slightly racy lyrics.

As for the young actors playing the Oxford and Cambridge hopefuls, they’re just fine (special shout out to Samuel Barnett as Posner, who does most of the singing).

This is a good movie to save for DVD — watch it on a Yorkshire-like rainy day. And you can gobbet me on that.

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