Set in 1983 Yorkshire, Nicholas Hytner's The History Boys is an intelligent, often witty school drama.
Adapted from Alan Bennett's National Theatre production, his script concerns eight bright, but crass boys looking to get into an elite university like Cambridge or Oxford.
These pretentious, acerbic fellows have a semester to get ready for the entrance exam.
Funny banter is what these pupils have with a very portly general studies teacher (Richard Griffiths) and their history instructor (Frances de la Tour). The youthful Oxford alum Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore) is their new tutor. Still, will the motivation be their to get them on the fast track to living productive adult lives?
Hytner, an experienced theatre professional, director of the film version of The Crucible and Center Stage, helps to make the all those going through growing pains engaging. It helps a bit that this is the cast from the original production so the interaction feels more real and pointed. The instructors are almost part of the bonding process, a combination of sarcasm and support that's snappy.
Samuel Barnett and Dominic Cooper are most actorly effective in ways that pay off from personal expectations and past veracity. Perhaps due to time constraints and the editing process, performers like Samuel Anderson aren't able to display more of their talents.
As for the veteran thespians, Griffiths delivers quite a layered interpretation to someone wry, wistful, yet stirring. De la Tour makes her line readings very pungent, but palatable. And Clive Merrison endows his awaiting headmaster with much risible gusto.
Maybe Hytner can't shake out all of the stagy antecedent after a luminescent cinematic start, yet one might glean unexpected insights, though not with the poignancy of a Dead Poet's Society. If the finish feels tacked on, what comes prior from strong settings and a catchy score in The History Boys has the class to hold our attention in an unsentimental, sincere way.