One-Minute Book Reviews

January 4, 2007

The History Boys: Film vs. Play

Filed under: Movie Link,Plays — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:11 am

A movie that softens the indictment of education found in the Broadway show

The History Boys: A play. By Alan Bennett. Faber and Faber/FSG, 109 pp., $13, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

A few months ago, I reviewed the script for the play The History Boys and suggested that book groups consider adopting the habit of a club I used to belong to that read a play aloud once year. If you missed the review, you can find it archived in the “Plays” category at right.

So I’ll just add a quick follow-up note now that I’ve seen the high-spirited movie version. Some film critics have described the play as admirably faithful to the Broadway production that won the 2006 Tony Award for best play. In most respects, they’re right.

But a small change in the movie dilutes a vital aspect of the play: The History Boys condemns the cult of novelty in education. This indictment was obvious in the stage version. The play opened with a flash forward that showed the new teacher, Irwin, taking his theories to an extreme by arguing years later for the abolition of the right to a trial by jury on the grounds that people would have more freedom without it. Playwright Alan Bennett is saying: This is where ideas like Irwin’s will get you in the end.

The movie drops that opening scene and lines elsewhere that underscore Bennett’s point. The omissions soften the views Irwin expressed in the Broadway show, though Stepen Campbell Moore plays him in both. So if you liked the movie, why not read the play, too? The film serves the play better than many adaptations. But it gives its audiences less credit than the play for being willing to listen to unpleasant truths. And who could be surprised by a dumbing-down – however slight – from Hollywood?

The following material comes from the original review of the play:
Best line: “Can you, for moment, imagine how dispiriting it is to teach five centuries of masculine ineptitude? … What is history? History is women following behind with the bucket.”

Worst line: The play has a brief scene in French that has delighted movie- and theatergoers. But if your book club is thinking of reading the play aloud, you need a member who can read and translate such lines as “Qui est la femme de chambre? … Moi, je suis la femme de chambre.”

Recommended if … you’d like to read a play that doesn’t include any iambic pentameter or require somebody to sing the line, “I just met a girl named Maria.”

Published: April 2006

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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