THE HISTORY BOYS (Nicholas Hytner). 109 minutes. Opens Friday (November 24). For venues and times, see Movies, page 106. Rating: NN Rating: NN
Sporting everything but canes and bare bottoms, The History Boys is sure to warm the heart of anyone who spent time as an English schoolboy.
A class of bright Yorkshire students train for the Oxford and Cambridge entrance exams while quoting Wittgenstein and juggling the plot's various homoerotic demands. It's The Dead Poets Society with greater erudition and added furtive groping.
It's also got massive tonal problems. Nicholas Hytner (The Madness Of King George) adapts the film from Alan Bennett 's successful stage play, with the original cast. They know the words but not the music. Apart from one dazzling philosophical conversation about the Holocaust, scenes fall flat, zingers don't land and the whole film feels frustrated by its inability to reach the brilliance it believes it has.
Worse, Hytner announces the film's 1983 setting with clanging montages set to the Smiths, New Order and similar vintage acts. But its characters could as easily have stepped from 1953. Not one of them looks ready to dance to this music. So when Rock The Casbah kicks in as the boys hit the library, it's clear -- this movie just hasn't earned its montage.