Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5.
United Kingdom, 2006. Fox Searchlight Pictures, DNA Films, BBC Two Films, UK Film Council, National Theatre. Screenplay by Alan Bennett, based on his play. Cinematography by Andrew Dunn. Produced by Nicholas Hytner, Damian Jones, Kevin Loader. Music by George Fenton. Production Design by John Beard. Costume Design by Justine Luxton. Film Editing by John Wilson. National Board of Review Awards 2006.
Though its stage origins are quite obvious, this ride through the world of high-level academia is worth seeing for the smooth performances by the play’s original cast members (who don’t come off in any way theatrical) and the exceptional dialogue by Alan Bennett, here adapting his work for the screen. The story takes place in Yorkshire in the early eighties and revolves around a group of gifted students whose keen scholastic talents have earned them the possibility of getting into the most prestigious universities in England (namely Oxford and Cambridge). First, however, they must study night and day at their regular subjects on top of being prepared for their university entrance exams by a temporary tutor (Stephen Campbell Moore) who has come to help them refine their aims. Their General Studies teacher (Richard Griffiths), offers them a breath of fresh air by having them reach to appreciate more than just the stodgy, rigid principles of academic study and instead lunge for the more erratic, passionate philosophies that can help round out their conservative education and prepare them for some manner of optimism in the real world. Their real lessons, however, happen outside the school, for between Moore’s falling in love with one of the students and Griffiths enjoying the odd fondle of the young boys on his motorcycle, these kids learn about the realities of manipulation, survival and strategy without needing to crack open a single book. Frances de la Tour is magnificent as the history teacher who observes the various goings-on with a critical eye in this unflinching yet classy look into a world of high expectations and repressed desires, a film that is at the same time coldly clinical and viciously sexy. Nicholas Hytner, who directed the production at London’s National Theatre (of which he is artistic director), contributes fine guidance, while the entire cast of youngsters are all fantastic, wholly lovable, compelling and sympathetic.