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Theatre / The History Boys

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Dakin: Are we scarred for life, do you think?
Scripps: We must hope so.

A 2004 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 in The '80s 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:

  • Actor Allusion: At one point it is said of Mr. Hector that he likes poet W. H. Auden. Richard Griffiths played Auden in The Habit Of Art also written by Alan Bennett.
  • 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.
  • Anachronism Stew: In the film, the crossing guard's "Stop: Children" sign is of the wrong design for the 1980s. It should be with the word "Children" in place of the pictogram, like this - the current version only came about in the mid-1990s.
  • Analogy Backfire: Film-only exchange between the evangelizing P.E. teacher and Scripps (the student who spends a lot of time in church)
    Gym teacher: God doesn't do notes, either. Did Jesus say, 'Can I be excused the Crucifixion?' No!
    Scripps Actually, sir, I think he did.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Posner is apparently an outside because he's Jewish, he's small, he's homosexual and he lives in Sheffield.
  • 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?"
    • Later she also delivers a brief, to-the-point What the Hell, Hero? on the same subject.
      "Hector, a grope is a grope. It is not the Annunciation."
    • Don't dismiss the Holocaust in front of Scripps or Posner.
  • Better than Sex: Mrs Lintott preferred her first pizza to losing her virginity.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Grammar Correction Gag: A variation: "Actually Hector would like that — 'your sucking me off'. It's a gerund. He likes gerunds."
  • 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'.
  • Hope Spot: The film has a perfectly happy ending (the boys have all got into Oxbridge and Hector has his job back) if you stop watching as Hector and Irwin ride off on Hector's bike… After that, it's revealed that Hector is killed and the boys' futures aren't exactly uplifting (Scripps, Akhtar, Crowther, Rudge and Dakin seem satisfied enough; Timms becomes a junkie; Lockwood joins the army and is killed by friendly fire; and Posner essentially becomes Hector though he resists the urge to fondle his pupils).
    • The original play's ending is worse for Posner: he becomes a recluse with no friends (except on the internet) and poor mental health, and "has long since stopped asking himself where it went wrong".
  • 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: Deconstructed 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 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 vs. 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.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: 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.
  • 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".)
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: In the film there is a bittersweet one. In the play it's just depressing. Crowther and Lockwood are magistrates (the latter joins the Royal Army in the film and is killed by friendly fire) and Akhtar is a headmaster, "pillars of a community that no longer has much use for pillars". Timms owns a dry-cleaning chain and does drugs at the weekend. Dakin is a highly-paid tax lawyer and proud of it. Rudge has become wealthy building "handy homes" (a term to which he objects, pointing out that "Rudge homes" are affordable for first-time buyers). Scripps is a journalist who still hopes he will "really write" one day. And Posner becomes a recluse whose only friends are online, "none in his right name or even gender", and he has "long since stopped asking himself where it went wrong."