Another would-be Oscar contender has been dinged just as it rushes out of the starting gate. Nicholas Hytner‘s film version of Alan Bennett ‘s Tony-award-winning play The History Boys has finally been reviewed out of London (two days before its commercial opening over there), and if the word of Variety‘s Leslie Felperin is to be given any weight, there appears to be trouble in River City.
“The History Boys may please fans of the original legit production and the stragglers who didn’t catch it in Gotham or London’s West End,” Helperin begins. “However, auds coming cold to this largely faithful adaptation of Bennett’s clever but contrived classroom comedy won’t be so wowed, given pic’s irrevocably stagy feel.
“Hytner’s flat-footed direction doesn’t help, nor do pic’s younger cast members’ over-rehearsed perfs, [and] the blow-up to the bigscreen makes the original material’s fault lines look more chasm-like. Bennett’s glittery dialogue may encrust the material with jewel-bright, quotable lines, but it sounds just plain phony in the mouths of the younger characters. Plus, the younger actors are so used to inhabiting their roles that all the spontaneity has been squeezed out, although a couple (Barnett, Parker) get better results.
“In the end, they nearly all sound like Alan Bennett characters — and ones who would be more comfortable in the 1950s than the 1980s — rather than real people. Essentially, they’re vehicles to air competing ideas about education, homoerotic desire, and how history is written. All interesting stuff, but it never quite gels as a drama.”