At the end of the film ‘the History Boys’ there’s a deliciously ironic moment where the headmaster reads a eulogy for Hector, the General Studies teacher who has died in a motorcycle accident after Irwin, his pillion passenger, ‘leant the wrong way’. The headmaster intones that Hector ‘loved words’ and wanted to inspire a ‘love of literature’ (pronounced litricha), in his students. The irony is, of course, that Hector wanted no such thing. We viewed him earlier, at Fountains Abbey, telling the female History teacher, Mrs Lintott (Tottie), that he hated the idea that his students would ever say, in their adult lives, that they loved words. Hector’s ideas were much more important than that, he wanted the students to feel that someone else’s words meant something to them. That the way that they may be feeling at a particular time in their lives may have already been experienced by someone before. He believes that poetry and stories hold a truth that the reader can experience and enjoy. Irwin, on the other hand is a relativist. He teaches the boys to argue against history and to take a point of view and argue it. he believes that ‘truth has nothing to do with it’.
Bennet leaves us much to think about after we leave the cinema. We have been entertained by some very intelligent and talented boys who have just been accepted into Oxford. As they sing ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’ for Hector we consider their attachment to a flawed, yet great teacher. Is this an oxymoron? He was flawed as an individual, but he left a lasting impression on the boys he taught, and not just for his sexual procilivities, which, anyway, the boys were far too sophisticated to be affected by.
After seeing the play I was left with a few small disatisfactions in the film, but overall, it was a very good adaptation. I could have done without the mention of ‘Media Studies’ which is far too recent. Similarly, the introduction of both the P.E. and the Art teacher were unnecessary and they were really just window dressing. The boys, were fantastic and very believable, and their acceptance of one another was heartening. Not too many schools could boast of students like this, but it is not any less believable for it. Their bursting into song in class was hilarious and a legacy of Hector’s eclectic style. It is worth noting that Irwin ends up working for BBC2 and is reported as being journalist rather than historian by Tottie.
Go and see the film. Go and see the play. Go and buy the screenplay (it’s on my wishlist)
For more information on the film see:-