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The History Boys

4.2 out of 5 stars 139 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

From award-winning playwright Alan Bennett (The Madness of King George) comes this delightfully witty comedy of eight boisterous-yet-talented schoolboys hoping to gain admittance to England's most prestigious universities. They're aided on their quest by two teachers, a shrewd young upstart and an inspiring old eccentric, whose opposing philosophies challenge the boys to confront the true meaning of education and the relative values of happiness and success.

Adapted from the original Tony Award winning play and starring the original Tony Award winning cast, The History Boys is an engaging, thought-provoking, and wickedly funny look at history, the pursuit of knowledge, and the utter randomness of life.


The play's the thing in The History Boys. Unlike most stage-to-screen transitions, Nicholas Hytner assembled the entire original cast for the celluloid version of Alan Bennett's award-winning work. (The two previously joined forces for The Madness of King George.) As in Hytner's National Theatre production, a group of Sheffield sixth-form boys, Timms (James Corden), Lockwood (Andrew Knott), Rudge (Russell Tovey), Scripps (Jamie Parker), Crowther (Samuel Anderson), Akhtar (Sacha Dhawan), Posner (Samuel Barnett), and Dakin (Dominic Cooper)--the latter two standouts--spend an extra term in 1983 preparing for their Oxbridge exams. Hector (Richard Griffiths) and Dorothy Lintott (Frances de la Tour) are their regular instructors (both performances garnered Tony Awards), while Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore, Bright Young Things) is the enigmatic new history teacher. The Headmaster (Clive Merrison) brings him on board to lend the precocious lads "polish." Irwin, however, is more interested in encouraging them to think creatively--not merely to recite facts. The boys just want to get into Oxford and Cambridge. If that means withstanding the occasional grope from Hector and harsh word from Irwin, so be it. In the end, which boy gets in where isn't insignificant, but Bennett's greater concern is what they learn along the way. If Hytner isn't always successful in reconciling the intellectual with the more earthbound, The History Boys is one of the funniest films yet about Britain's educational system--and education in general. --Kathleen C. Fennessy

Stills from The History Boys

Special Features

  • Widescreen Feature
  • Audio Commentary with director Nicholas Hytner and writer Alan Bennett
  • History Boys around the World: Tour Diaries
  • Pass it On: The History Boys on Screen

Product Details

  • Actors: Richard Griffiths, Frances de la Tour, Clive Merrison, Samuel Anderson, James Corden
  • Directors: Nicholas Hytner
  • Writers: Alan Bennett
  • Producers: Allon Reich, Andrew Macdonald, Charles Moore, Damian Jones, David M. Thompson
  • Format: Multiple Formats, AC-3, Color, Dolby, Dubbed, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), French (Dolby Surround), Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround)
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
  • Dubbed: Spanish
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
  • Studio: Fox Searchlight
  • DVD Release Date: April 17, 2007
  • Run Time: 109 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (139 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #17,507 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The History Boys" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

I did the "Oxbridge term" at exactly the same time as "The History Boys," the fall of 1983. I chose instead to accept a scholarship to an American university that I won halfway through the Oxbridge term. I've lived in America ever since, but my first 19 years was in England, and I can relate to this movie.

Some explanations are in order, because some cultural things are hard on American audiences. Someone once famously observed that we're two nations divided by a common language.

"The History Boys" is not set at a boarding school; it's a grammar school, and it's a second-tier grammar school. In the pecking order back then, you'd have had your British public (but actually private) schools, then your grammar schools led (as the movie mentions) by the likes of Manchester Grammar. Then you'd have the grammar schools like the one in the movie and it would, for these boys, have been a heck of an opportunity (if you buy into the whole Oxford & Cambridge thing, which obviously I didn't) and a bit of a reach. They'd be at a disadvantage for some of the reasons given in the movie (fewer opportunities than kids at more high-falutin' schools) and for the reason of simple English snobbery and the class system at the time.

Second, the class represented here is not, as one reviewer suggested, a mythical place where students care, teachers care and debate thrives. This is an actual place, very much how good English schools were, especially in the last year of 'A'-Levels and the Oxbridge term. It's very well-portrayed here. When I came to the USA, where I attended a fine public university, I never recovered from my disappointment that there wasn't the same level of debate and class discussion.
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(3.5 stars) Set in the 1980s in a boarding school in the north of England, this newly released film adaptation of Alan Bennett's play (which won six Tony Awards during its 2006 New York run), follows eight young "sixth-formers" who are preparing for the history entrance examinations for Oxford or Cambridge. To help the students prepare for the exams, the headmaster hires a young teacher, Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore), to improve the students' "presentation" so that they will stand out from the crowd. Irwin's goal is to teach the students to think "outside the box"--not to be dull--when they answer examiners' questions.

His mission conflicts with the goals of the English and History teachers. Hector, the motor-cycle-riding English teacher (Richard Griffiths), has taught the students reams of poetry, along with the French subjunctive (though it is not his subject), having students practice their French by pretending to negotiate at a brothel. He takes the long view and values education for its own sake. The History teacher, Dorothy Lintott (Frances de la Tour), has taught the facts: "Plainly stated and properly organized facts need no presentation, surely," she remarks to the headmaster. The students' efforts to be accepted at Oxford drive the action.

The film features many of the same actors who appeared in the stage play, notably the brilliant Griffiths as Hector, the sensitive Moore as Irwin, the tough-talking, heart-of-gold de la Tour as Dorothy Lintott, and the same eight students, joking, bantering with their teachers, and pursuing their favorite subject--sex. The film, however, is very different in tone from the play. In the play the conflict between the teachers and their views of education unites the action and gives depth and universality to strong themes.
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The '06 BBC Films `The History Boys' is a British `Dead Poets Society' with a much sharper, cutting edge than its American predecessor. The dialogue is crisp and insightful, the plot layered and intelligent and the acting superb throughout. The seven young males portraying a high school class of advanced students preparing for their Oxford University interviews constitute a perfect blend of both similar and diverse lifestyles and socio/religious belief systems. Their performances are further enhanced by amazing performances by Richard Griffiths (Hector), Stephen Campbell Moore (Irwin) and Frances de la Tour (Mrs. Lintott) as the three history teachers preparing them for their upcoming college reviews.

As the all important day draws closer the young men are not only challenged in the classroom but within themselves to discover what history is and the part they play in its continuation. They begin to understand that history consists of not only events of the past but is part of the everyday fabric of random events in which they live. It is something to be embraced, lived and passed on.

`The History Boys' is a tremendous film filled with wit, wisdom and a wonderful soundtrack of upbeat tunes you already know and love. Just remember that it's a British production so make sure you're in the mood to listen carefully, those accents can be tough if you're not giving the movie your full attention.
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"The History Boys" is based on the popular play by Alan Bennett. Filmed between the British run of the play and its world tour, the film features the same cast and director as the stage production. The story is set among the students and teachers at a boys' grammar (state) school in Yorkshire in 1983. The school's headmaster (Clive Merrison) in intent on seeing that his eight best 6th term students (seniors) get into the prestigious Oxford or Cambridge universities. He brings in a new teacher, Mr. Irwin (Steven Campbell Moore), to coach the boys for their exams. Between Irwin's provocative approach, Mr. Hector's (Richard Griffiths) unorthodox classroom, and Miss Lintott's (Frances de la Tour) traditional instruction, the boys get a few lessons on the real world along with their history.

"The History Boys" covers the personal and academic challenges of 12 people -8 students and 4 instructors- as the young men race to prepare for tests that might determine their future. The movie contains some material that isn't in the play, but it has also removed a lot to make the film shorter and tighter. It's theatrical and talky, with characters that are more representative of types than realistic. But it's very funny at times, and that's the basis on which I recommend "The History Boys". The humor is balanced by a somewhat awkward drama that I expect will have no shortage of detractors. The theme of competing educational styles runs throughout: Irwin teaches to tests, Lintott teaches traditional curricula, and Hector provides an eclectic, inspirational window on life and art. This is another one of those schoolboy tales in the vein of "Dead Poets Society". The depth is found in the teachers more than the students, but the boys' unapologetic humor won me over.
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