Don't worry: The History Boys is not another in the seemingly endless succession of Inspirational Movies About the British. It's true that the boys in the cast are pretty damn cute—which can be, uh, uplifting—but the film is too smart to be mistaken for inspirational.
The History Boys follows eight teenagers who are studying to apply at Oxford and Cambridge—and if the opening credits are to be believed, prep school in England in the 1980s was a stylish New Order fantasy, full of sexy boys in skinny ties. (And teeming with homosexuals!) The eight boys range in age and temperament from the sexy Dakin (Dominic Cooper) to pious Scripps (Jamie Parker, AKA my new boyfriend), to Posner (Samuel Barnett) who describes himself as small, Jewish, gay, and "fucked."
These bright young things are guided in their studies by two very different teachers: the rotund, endearing Hector (Richard Griffiths) believes in the value of truth, beauty, etc., while glib young Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore) wants the boys to forget about "truth," and learn to write clever essays. The obvious tension between these two viewpoints is heightened because both teachers are gay: The charismatic Irwin becomes a figure of fascination for his students, while Hector is an endearing old pederast whose attentions (a grope now and then) are affectionately tolerated.
The History Boys is based on Alan Bennett's play of the same name, and the film's roots in the stage are revealed in its arch, hyper-literate tone. The transition from stage to screen could've been smoother—parts of the movie feel stiff and contrived, perhaps because many of the actors used were also in the original theatrical production. For the most part, though, the cast makes it work—the film is undeniably entertaining, and deals thoughtfully with some heady, engaging ideas.