The History Boys (film): Wikis


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The History Boys

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Nicholas Hytner
Produced by Damian Jones
Kevin Loader
Nicholas Hytner
Written by Alan Bennett
Starring Richard Griffiths
Clive Merrison
Frances de la Tour
Stephen Campbell Moore
Samuel Anderson
Samuel Barnett
Dominic Cooper
James Corden
Sacha Dhawan
Andrew Knott
Jamie Parker
Russell Tovey
Georgia Taylor
Adrian Scarborough
Penelope Wilton
Music by George Fenton
Cinematography Andrew Dunn
Editing by John Wilson
Distributed by Fox Searchlight
Release date(s) 13 October 2006 (UK)
Running time 104 min.
Country  United Kingdom
Language English
Gross revenue Domestic: $2,706,000
Worldwide: $11,121,000

The History Boys is a 2006 British comedy-drama film adapted by Alan Bennett from his play of the same name, which won the 2005 Olivier Award for Best New Play and the 2006 Tony Award for Best Play. It was directed by Nicholas Hytner, who directed the original production of The History Boys at the Royal National Theatre in London, and features the original cast of the play.

The school scenes were filmed in Watford in the two grammar schools, Watford Grammar School for Boys and Watford Grammar School for Girls. The film uses the uniform of Watford Boys. Locations in Elland and Halifax, West Yorkshire are used to create the broader landscape of Sheffield in which the story is set.



The story is set in a boys' grammar school in Sheffield in 1983. Crowther, Posner, Dakin, Timms, Akthar, Lockwood, Scripps, and Rudge have recently obtained the school's highest ever A-level scores and are hoping to enter Oxford or Cambridge, taking a seventh-term entrance exam in History. The General Studies teacher, known by staff and boys alike by his nickname "Hector" (Richard Griffiths), is their favourite, and works alongside their deputy head and regular History teacher, Mrs. Lintott (Frances de la Tour).

The headmaster, Felix (Clive Merrison), hires an energetic young contract teacher named Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore) to assist Hector and Mrs Lintott in preparing the boys for the Oxbridge entrance exams. Irwin's style is utterly different from Hector's and Mrs. Lintott's; while the older teachers emphasise cultural and factual knowledges and the quest for truth, Irwin urges the boys to put a spin on their historical analysis, to value originality above objective truth.

As the plot progresses we learn that Hector habitually offers some of his students rides home on his motorcycle and surreptitiously fondles his passengers. The boys have all come to a mutual understanding on the subject and, while mildly annoyed, laugh off their teacher's advances and more or less willingly continue to take turns riding home on the back of his bike. This practice eventually lands Hector in trouble as he is reported to the headmaster by a crossing guard who witnesses his action. The headmaster insists that Hector retire early, and also that Hector and Irwin share a class; when they do, the group engages in a tense discussion about how best to analyse the Holocaust.

As part of their General Studies the class acts out scenes from romantic films and literature, and Posner (Samuel Barnett) sings a love song—Rodgers and Hart's "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered"—which he pointedly directs towards Dakin (Dominic Cooper). Later he seeks out Irwin to discuss his attraction to Dakin. Dakin, who characterises himself as an aspiring lecher, is currently pursuing an affair with the headmaster's secretary, Fiona (Georgia Taylor). He is not displeased by Posner's attention, but finds himself interested by Irwin. Gradually, Dakin's quest to impress Irwin on an intellectual level evolves into a flirtatious, potentially sexual pursuit of his young teacher – who, as Posner, his friend Scripps (Jamie Parker) and even Hector note, is visibly attracted to Dakin.

After interviews, when the boys receive their replies through the post, it seems that they have all gained Oxbridge places, except for the group's gauche sportsman, Rudge (Russell Tovey). When Mrs Lintott questions him, it turns out that Rudge had already been told at interview that he has a place, due to a family connection with the college (his father was a scout, or college servant, in the 1950s).

Dakin approaches Irwin in his classroom after the celebrations and reveals that he found no record of Irwin's attendance at Corpus, the Oxford college he claimed as his alma mater, and Irwin confesses that he lied about his past. Dakin then, "as a thank you", invites Irwin to give him a blowjob. They make an appointment to "have a drink" on Sunday. Dakin tells Irwin that he has seen two sides to Irwin—a reckless, challenging intellectual whilst teaching but an uptight, cautious personality in real life—and he cannot reconcile them.

Dakin then proceeds to the Headmaster's office and, by threatening to reveal Felix's own sexual harassment of Fiona, forces him to reinstate Hector.

The boys prepare to leave the grammar school at the end of that term, and Hector agrees to give Dakin a ride home on the motorbike "for old times' sake". However, before they leave, the headmaster runs out and stops them, saying that Hector should not take one of the boys. He suggests that Hector take Irwin instead. Dakin gladly hands the helmet to him, and the screen fades to white as they drive off, the boys waving happily and laughing.

Fast forward to a few days later, as it is revealed that the bike was in an accident on the way home, possibly caused by Irwin, never before having ridden on the back of a motorbike, leaning the wrong way on a corner. Irwin was badly injured and suffered total memory loss of his conversation with Dakin; Hector did not survive. At the memorial service, the boys sing "Bye Bye Blackbird" and the headmaster gives a trite eulogy. The scene then changes abruptly to an almost empty hall with only the eight boys and Mrs. Lintott present. "Will they come to my funeral, I wonder," Mrs Lintott remarks, before recounting the futures of the eight boys. They have entered a variety of careers: Akthar a headmaster, Crowther a magistrate, Timms the owner of a dry cleaning chain who takes drugs at weekends, Dakin a tax lawyer. Lockwood (Andrew Knott), who entered the army, died as a result of friendly fire at the age of 28 while serving in the York and Lancaster Regiment (an infantry regiment that was actually disbanded in 1968). Rudge has become a builder, Scripps a journalist, and Irwin stops teaching and becomes a maker of TV history documentaries. Finally, Posner reveals he has become a teacher who followed in Hector's footsteps, with similar ambivalence and angst, though without "touching the boys", which is "always a struggle. But maybe that's why I'm a good teacher".

The film ends with a collection of moments involving Hector, leading up to the moment that a photograph of the entire class was taken at Fountains Abbey, a scene from earlier in the film. The photo spans the entire screen, and the closing credits are played over the photo.



According to Time [1], the film is better than the original play, as the transformation to film improved the 'flow and intimacy' of the production, while preserving the messages it seeks to convey. Rolling Stone [2] notes that some sense of familiarity with the subject of the film is lost in the cutting of nearly an hour from the original play, but the dialogue remains witty and pointed as is the customary style of the author. New York[3] describes the film as 'brilliant and infectious', and filled with Alan Bennett's customary deadpan humour. The author writes as though he simultaneously envies the extrovert characters he has created, yet is happy to stand apart from them. Hector's classes ramble, but manage to inspire the boys to the extent that they are pleased to adopt his approach to learning, and contentedly go along with his eccentric behaviour. The film is peppered with literary references and carries an encouragement to engage with life.


The National Board of Review of Motion Pictures named The History Boys one of the Top Ten Films in its 2006 awards.[4]

The film was nominated for the 2007 GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Film - Limited Release.[5]

Griffiths and de la Tour received BAFTA nominations for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress, respectively.

Differences from play

Whilst there are several differences between the film and the play due to the contracted running time of the film, among the more obvious ones are:

In the Play:

  • The only on stage characters are: the boys, the Headmaster, Hector, Irwin, Mrs. Lintott, a few government ministers (unspeaking), two members of the production team on Irwin's television show (one speaking) and sometimes other boys who are unspeaking but help with scene changes, one of whom plays the piano if the actor playing Scripps cannot.
  • Neither the characters of P.E. teacher Wilkes nor Art teacher Mrs.Bibby feature or are mentioned.
  • The character of Fiona is undepicted on stage and is only mentioned by other characters, that said (in the National Theatre productions at least) she does feature in the scene-change films but does not speak.
  • All the action - save brief scenes at the start of each act and another which depicts the boys' Oxbridge interviews - takes place indoors, in the school. The exterior of the school, the surrounding town and the boys' home lives do not feature.
  • In a flash forward five years, Posner asks Irwin for his side of his relationship with Dakin. At first Irwin does not realize who Posner is and refuses to answer, only realising who the "man" is when Posner asks him to autograph a book Irwin has written by addressing it to 'David', Posner's first name. He instead signs it 'To Posner' as that is the name Irwin knew him by (The History Boys, pp. 58–62).
  • Irwin is permanently incapacitated by the motorcycle crash, and does not end up on crutches but is explicitly depicted as being in a wheelchair from the moment of the crash and throughout the rest of his life. At the start of the play, he is shown to have become a Government spin-doctor in later life (The History Boys, p. 3).
  • Lockwood does not die as a soldier but becomes a magistrate.
  • Posner does not (explicitly at least) become a teacher: Mrs Lintott describes Posner as living a lonely life with several breakdowns, living off an allotment, keeping "a scrapbook of the achievements of his one-time classmates" and having "a host of friends... though only on the internet, and none in his right name or even gender". She concludes by saying "He has long since stopped asking himself where it went wrong".

The Author's and Director's commentary accompanying the DVD version of the film explains that Posner's improved future was decided on, as after the deaths of Hector and Lockwood, a third 'death' was felt to be too much.


Title[6] Performed by[6] Notes
L'Accordéoniste Samuel Barnett, Jamie Parker One the most famous Édith Piaf's songs
Bewitched Samuel Barnett, Jamie Parker
Now Voyager Jamie Parker
Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor - Adagio Sostenuto Jamie Parker
Wish Me Luck (As You Wave Me Goodbye) Cast
Bye Bye Blackbird Samuel Barnett, Jamie Parker, Cast
Wish Me Luck (As You Wave Me Goodbye) Gracie Fields
Blue Monday New Order
This Charming Man The Smiths
Mustapha Dance The Clash
Never Stop (Discotheque) Echo & the Bunnymen
A Forest The Cure
Papa's Got a Brand New Pigbag Pigbag
Bewitched Rufus Wainwright


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