Dakin: "Are we scarred for life, do you think?"
Scripps: "We must hope so."
A stage play by Alan Bennett and later a 2006 film, The History Boys
follows a group of mostly bright students from a Sheffield grammar school
as they prepare to sit the Oxbridge
examinations, all hoping to study history. Taught their facts by Mrs. Lintott and culture by the inspirational Mr. Hector, they suddenly find things shaken up by the arrival of the temporary contract teacher Mr. Irwin, who aims to get them through their exams by cheating.note
Throughout the term, issues arise between the different teachers and the headmaster
about how and what the boys should be taught, while the boys themselves grapple with their relationships to their classmates, their goals and their teachers. The movie deals frankly with both student-teacher relationships and the perceptions of homosexuality in the 1980s, but despite its serious moments, it never loses its razor wit, ultimately managing to be both thought-provoking and fun.
The History Boys provides examples of:
- The Ace: Dakin
- All Gays Are Pedophiles: The Headmaster displays this attitude when he reprimands Mr. Hector for groping his pupils.
- The boys are technically adultsnote . While that doesn't excuse what Hector does, the Headmaster is a bigot and a hypocrite for damning Hector's behaviour while he himself gropes his (female) secretary, who is about the same age as the boys. Dakin uses this as an argument to get Hector his job back. It works... sort of.
- Bilingual Bonus: The completely hilarious French class scene is left untranslated, and is not terribly short either. There isn't one on the DVD, but some productions will include one in the program.
- Bittersweet Ending: The death of Hector and the fate of some of the boys.
- Berserk Button: Mrs Lintott takes the revelation that Hector has been molesting her students relatively well, but it's easy to see her horror.
"He handled the boys balls?"
- But This Is Ridiculous!:
"'You can suck me off next week'! I've heard of a busy schedule but this is ridiculous."
- Country Matters: Done through an extended war metaphor of all things. Other times, the characters state it directly.
- Deadpan Snarker: Being Alan Bennett, you're in for a World of Snark, but Scripps stands out for sheer driness.
- Deconstruction: Oh yes. Following the strange ideas of the new teacher actually benefits the boys, the gay pedophile teacher is actually a very tragic figure, and not everything comes to a happy ending.
- Ephebophile: Hector.
- Everybody Smokes: Or at least, a lot of the students and all of the teachers do at some point or another, fitting for the time period it is set in.
- Everyone Is Bi: With the massive amount of Ho Yay, and the fact that Hector has a wife and that Dakin has a girlfriend, it seems like almost everyone is flexible to some degree (barring the explicitly homosexual Posner).
- Fat Bastard: Subverted in the movie; Hector is fat, but he's not a malicious figure in spite his inappropriate actions.
- Fired Teacher: Hector is not technically fired but pressured to resign after he is seen fondling a student on his motorbike., but it's also, to some degree, a way to get rid of him and his teaching style. Hector is ultimately able to get his job back, after pressure from Dakin, but Hector is killed in an accident on his way home from school anyway.
- Gayngst: Posner and Irwin. Hector vaguely. Dakin subverts it.
- Gym Class Hell: Subverted since Mr. Wilkins utterly fails to intimidate the boys.
- Have a Gay Old Time: played with in the 'make it gay' line from 'Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye'.
- Hot for Teacher/Hot for Student: Mr. Hector falls under this generally while Dakin's pursuit of Mr. Irwin is a more specific example. The headmaster's interest in Fiona is treated analogously, but doesn't quite fit the trope.
- Ironic Echo: In a conversation with Irwin about halfway through the film, Hector says that he doesn't want the boys to grow up and refer back reverentially to their love of "literature" and "words." At the end of the film, at Hector's funeral, Felix uses these exact words and tone to describe Hector's legacy.
- Jewish and Nerdy: Posner.
"I'm a Jew, I'm small, I'm homosexual and I live in Sheffield...I'm fucked."
- Kick the Dog: Done a lot to Posner.
- Last Name Basis: Most of the boys.
- Love Martyr: Posner.
- Motive Rant: Mrs. Lintott gets a rather good one about women and history. Obviously a non-criminal example.
- No Hugging, No Kissing: The characters who state that they are in love never make physical romantic contact.
- One-Liner: For days afterward, you will still be recalling some of these at any given moment.
- School Teachers: The History Boys deconstructs these one teacher at a time. Mr. Hector is the Cool Teacher who habitually gropes his pupils and is a "bit of a shambles". Mrs. Lintott is set up to be the Stern Teacher but is very nice and the most stable teacher, so to speak. Mr. Irwin is the
Hot Teacher deconstruction of types like Mr. Keating, popular with the students, but with some rather extreme views that nonetheless as a person he has difficulty living up to. The Hippie Teacher is always miffed that no one is taking her subject seriously; the Overly Religious Gym Teacher is a parody of, well, both of those things, and Dean Bitterman, though mostly played straight, is actually shown to be in a difficult situation by the end of the film and delivers a pretty decent What the Hell, Hero? speech to the Cool Teacher.
- Sliding Scale of Silliness Versus Seriousness: Straight down the middle, probably. It is a very funny film, but is also very moving and raises some issues that leave the viewer in gray territory. This is invoked by Hector in a conversation with Irwin about halfway through the film. He says that he actively introduced the boys to "the tosh" in order to counteract the general seriousness of the rest of the story.
- Someday This Will Come in Handy:
Timms: Most of the stuff poetry's about hasn't happened to us yet!
Hector: But it will, Timms, it will. And when it does you'll have the antidote ready.
- Trailers Always Lie: It's an uplifting coming-of-age drama where a good-looking teenage boy and his friends chase girls while struggling to get into Oxford! Meanwhile, their inspirational teacher is persecuted by the stuffy headmaster for his progressive teaching style! Also, judging by the Blur soundtrack, it's the mid-90s... (There's no hint at all from the trailer that the main characters are gay, to the point that disparate scenes are cut together to make Dakin's relationship with Fiona look like a major plot element and Posner's line about being "I'm a Jew, I'm small, I'm homosexual and I live in Sheffield" is cut to just "I'm small and I live in Sheffield".)
- What Could Have Been: The subjunctive.
- "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: In the film there is a bittersweet one. In the play it's just depressing.
- You Make Me Sic: A variation: "Actually Hector would like that — 'your sucking me off'. It's a gerund. He likes gerunds."