Had I not been all Bend-ed and distracted yesterday, I would have posted a sampling of reviews of Nicolas Hytner‘s The History Boys (Fox Searchlight,11.21) which opened yesterday in England. The consensus is not one of immense enthusiasm for the film, but derby-wise Richard Griffiths‘ performance as a rotund, intellectually spirited grammar school prof named Hector may — favoring winds allowing — have a shot at a Best Actor nomination.
The Envelope‘s Tom O’Neil yesterday reported that Fox Searchlight, encouraged by the rave reviews Griffiths has gotten from London film critics, has decided to push him in the Best Actor category instead of Supporting, which had been the previous thinking due to Boys‘ ensemble-y nature.
Leslie Felperin‘s Variety review last Wednesday was the first to lower the boom on the film itself — now there’s a chorus of critics saying more or less the same things. The Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw called it “an odd, faintly directionless experience…a stagey and oddly contrived movie directed by Nick Hytner, with the kind of elaborate, highly worked dialogue that is exhilarating in the theatre, but rather unreal-sounding on the big screen.
“It is set, notionally, in the early 1980s, though Bennett’s mental picture of the scene is surely from decades further back than that. There are some ’80s pop songs on the soundtrack and modernized touches that appear to overshoot the period runway; we get talk of ‘media studies’ (for the Oxbridge term? in the early 80s?) and the boys invoke their ‘rights’ when a master casually whacks them over the head with some exercise books.”
Bradshaw is especially good with his riffs on Mr. Creosote:
“Really, though, we are in Mr. Chips country. And the Mr. Chips who has wisely and wittily guided a number of clever-clogs youngsters to academic success is a master called Hector, rumbustiously played by Richard Griffiths. Heaven knows, Mr. Griffiths was no starveling playing Uncle Monty in Withnail and I 20 years ago — but now he is a mighty presence indeed.
“[Griffiths] actually has a stunt double listed on the final credits, presumably for long-shots showing Hector in his crash helmet sedately riding a motor-scooter into the school grounds, and that is not exactly Mission: Impossible stuff. As far as he is permitted, Griffiths dominates the screen with talent and charm — and sheer equatorial girth.”