The History Boys Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

UK, Yorkshire, 1983. An unremarkable high school run by strict principal Felix Armstrong (Clive Merrison). But this year is special for the school. Eight graduates of the senior class in the exams received the highest scores, and this gives them the opportunity to apply for a scholarship when entering one of the most prestigious institutions of higher education in the country – Oxford or Cambridge.

The headmaster is terribly excited about all this: for the first time in the history of this school, so many students can apply for admission to the oldest educational institutions in England. But Felix understands his responsibility: to submit an application does not mean to act. And the entrance exams to these institutions are very, very difficult, the students must be prepared accordingly.

Therefore, the director says, the whole group must go through another semester of special training in the summer, which he called “General Studies”. Mrs. Lintott (Frances de la Tour) will teach history to the graduates, old Hector (Richard Griffiths) will pump them up with literature, and the PE teacher Wilkes (Adrian Scarborough) will ensure an even healthier mind in a healthy body.

However, Mr. Armstrong is concerned that none of his teachers studied at Oxford or Cambridge and they cannot tell students how the exams are held there. And so he hires a young history teacher from Oxford, Mr. Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore), under the contract: he, firstly, graduated from Oxford himself and knows local customs well, and secondly, he professes a very modern approach to teaching and, in the opinion of director, to teach the group to think outside the box.

All eight students are very, very different. Daykin (Dominic Cooper) is a clear leader, handsome, carefully monitors his appearance and turns shura-mura with the director’s secretary Fiona (Georgia Taylor). Raj (Russell Tovey) is the most narrow-minded of this brilliant company, and he knows it about himself. And everyone knows about him. However, Raj is a good athlete, and here he is the best in the group. Timms (James Corden) is a cute plump who is constantly joking.

Lockwood (Andrew Knott) is very smart and confident. Crowther (Samuel Anderson) is a black man who plays theater in his spare time. Akhtar (Sasha Javan) – from a Muslim family, studies very, very hard. Scripps (Jamie Parker) is an Anglican and plays the piano very well. Well, the youngest in the group is David Posner (Samuel Barnet). He is Jewish by nationality, plus he is also gay, so life in this world is not easy for David. But he is supported in the group, although they spoof him without malice. David is in love with Daikin, but he tries his best not to show it.


I learned about this film when I was studying materials for the British National Theatre’s One Servant, Two Masters film-play directed by Nicholas Hytner and starring James Corden. Then I found out that in 2004 Nicholas Hytner at the National Theater based on the play by the British playwright Alan Bennett staged the play “The History Lovers”, which immediately became very popular, and it was played at various venues in the UK until 2008. In 2006, the troupe played this performance on Broadway for seven months, and the production was also very popular there.

In 2006, Nicholas Hytner made a film based on this production, and the same actors who participated in the very first production of the National Theater played there (later, of course, the actors changed in the production: for example, from November 2005 to February 2006, the entire cast was completely different).

In United States, this picture was not released under license, but it can be found in good quality, for example, here: original track; United Statesn, English and French subtitles; there is a United Statesn voiceover by S. Kuznetsov – of very decent quality, both in sound (competently superimposed) and in the translation itself.

In my opinion, the film is well worth watching. Moreover, it is – how to say it – multi-layered. I watched it twice. The first time you watch, basically watching the plot. In the second, when you already know the plot and the characters well, you notice all sorts of interesting moments that eluded your attention at the first viewing. And there are a lot of interesting things.

The acting work is very good. Moreover, if in “One Servant, Two Masters” James Corden first of all shone, then here he does not have such a prominent role at all. The students are all funny and interesting in their own way, we’ll talk about them later, but still, three teachers play the main role here: the literature and French teacher Hector, the visiting history teacher Irwin and the school history teacher Mrs. Lintott.

Hector is played by the very famous actor Richard Griffiths. In the UK he was known (sadly, Richard passed away in 2013) primarily as a theater actor, although he also appeared in several well-known films (his most famous role is Uncle Monty in Withnail and Me), but Griffiths he also starred in Hollywood a lot, where his most famous role is Vernon Dursley from Harry Potter. He also played in “The Naked Gun 2”, in “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” and in some other films.

Here his Hector is gorgeous. He, on the one hand, is an adherent of the academic style of teaching and believes that a modern person is nothing without knowledge of classical literature, however, on the other hand, Hector gives students great freedom of expression, and here you need to see what they get up to him in practical classes in French language. The guys want to act out a scene of visiting a brothel – yes, please, only let all visitors to the brothel express themselves exclusively in Subjonctif (subjunctive mood).

Hector loves his students, but love is here – both literally and figuratively. The fact is that Hector is gay, although he is married. And he, driving a student on a motorcycle, cannot resist touching the boy’s knee. True, he never goes further than this, the students are well aware of this peculiarity of his and make fun of old Hector, and among themselves they set up a queue, who next time will have the obligation to ride with the teacher, because when no one volunteers to go with Hector , the teacher is very offended, but they really love him and do not want to offend him.

The school teacher Mrs. Lintott is played by Frances de la Tour – I remember her from the excellent series “Sinners” with Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi. Also a very interesting character. Mrs. Lintott defends her view of history, and especially the role of women in history: in her opinion, this role is traditionally greatly downplayed, and Bublik and I believe that Mrs. Lintott is certainly right in this. And you need to see what kind of dialogues she has with Hector, discussing the new teacher, to whom both of them, of course, are jealous.

The new teacher Irwin is a great role by Stephen Campbell Moore: I saw him in The Baker Street Robbery, but he had a very small role there. Here Stephen turned around with might and main. The new teacher is literally a few years older than the students (in one scene, Daikin says to his friends: “Yes, he is five minutes older than us”), and he has to gain authority among the graduates, who know that Irwin was sent as if in opposition to their teachers – Hector and The Lintotts they know and love. Nevertheless, Irwin manages to gain authority from them and teach them to think outside the box – this will be useful for entering Oxford or Cambridge, where not only knowledge is required, but also the ability to draw one’s own, albeit paradoxical, conclusions from this knowledge.

Of the group of high school students, the brightest is, of course, Daikin performed by Dominic Cooper. It rarely happens that a noteworthy handsome man, who is also terribly preoccupied with his hair, at least does not annoy, but in this case it turned out well: Daikin never annoys, especially since he communicates quite friendly with the rest of the group, and then it works that Daikin, who is actually a womanizer and in his relationship with Fiona, has already almost made it to second base (“Took Berlin,” as the rest of the high school students who study the First and Second World Wars) suddenly felt a strong attraction in himself to Irwin, who is not much older than him, and there are rather curious collisions.

I must say right away that all this is shown quite subtly, interestingly and without any excessive naturalism: just a young guy suddenly realized that he would be interested in expanding his sexual horizons. Personally, I wouldn’t want to expand my sexual horizons THAT much, but I completely understand people who don’t want to stop there. This line (very small) may annoy some viewers, but it did not annoy me – everything was done neatly, tastefully and competently.

The second most notable high school character is David Posner in a very realistic and vivid performance by Samuel Barnett. A Jew, and even a gay, and even not tall, and even in Sheffield – I immediately wanted to ask him, recalling the old joke: “Yes, how did you manage to do that, sonny ?!” Nevertheless, David carried his Jewishness, that his lowly gayness in Sheffield with great dignity and, despite the fact that he was the youngest in this group, eclipsed many older students in strength of spirit and character. An excellent role, I liked it very much, and here the sense of proportion did not change the director in any way – everything was shown very tactfully.

Well, I will note the headmaster in the brilliant performance of Clive Merrison. He is terribly excited that as many as eight students from his school are applying for a scholarship. He feels that new horizons are now opening up for the school. He does everything to ensure that the students of his school succeed. How he does it, what he says and how he says it, communicating with teachers – it’s just brilliant! Especially his conversations with Mrs. Lintott, who names to the director all sorts of historical characters about which the director, a geographer by training, has not the slightest idea, but he cannot show it.

As I said, I was able to fully experience this film only after the second viewing. At the first viewing, you don’t really listen to what and especially HOW Hector, Mrs. Lintott and Irwin say to the guys, as well as how they talk to each other. On my second viewing, it took on a whole new dimension for me and the attitude changed from “well, good movie” to “very good movie”. In addition, issues of fundamentally different approaches to training and education are raised and quite actively discussed here – this is also very, very interesting.

I am very pleased that I watched it, I recommend it to everyone who likes non-standard and somehow eye-catching films that make you think. And I’m sure that there will surely be people who will catch all the subtleties from the very first time, which for me personally remained inaccessible at the first viewing: but here it must be borne in mind that I am generally a little dumb by nature, so – yes, what can I take from me at all ?!!


History Lovers / The History Boys movie meaning

Director: Nicholas Hytner Cast: Samuel Anderson, James Corden, Stephen Campbell Moore, Richard Griffiths, Frances de la Tour, Andrew Knott, Russell Tovey, Jamie Parker, Dominic Cooper, Samuel Barnett, Clive Merrison, Sasha Javan

Budget: $2.6M, Global gross: $13.3M
Tragicomedy, UK, 2006, 109 min.

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