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Somewhere close to the end of the film with the denouement safely in sight, the observing and matriarchal character of Mrs. Lintott (Frances de la Tour), looks on with a certain measure of furious annoyance and adds: History is the commentary on the various and continuing incapabilities of men. And history is women following behind with the bucket.
The same very much applies to the strongly male attuned issues brought up in Nicholas Hytners film adaptation of the multi-award winning play by Alan Bennett that was fast-tracked to the big screen mere months after being well received in both the West End and Broadway. Assembling the principle cast of the stage play to reenlist in their respective roles, it seems an almost bare bones retake of the based in the 80s play given its inherent staginess and strong emphasis on dialogue with a sole consolation of having a smashing 80s era soundtrack that elicits more pathos than its classroom full of contentiously atypical teenagers could.
It does intend to deceive through flattery with the crackling voltage of faux bourgeois intellectualism that currents itself through the entire film, from the derisive snorts of its middle class potential Oxford/Cambridge applicants to the wistful whinging of pathetically impotent intellectuals meant to educate these gifted misfits. So the question remains despite the seductive goblets of quotable gems, can we trust the artfulness of art?
Armed with transgressive innuendos and half-hearted epigrams, these students do more than just tease their male tutors: the rotund, flamboyant Hector (Richard Griffiths) who indulges their artistic sides with his unorthodox performance based lessons of 40s and 50s film reenactments and Irwin (a superbly understated Stephen Campbell Moore), the new school acquisition who preaches imagination over regurgitation, even through his rigidly sterile deportment. These students are inherently accepting and incredibly self-aware of each others predilections, flaws, strengths and the homoeroticism shared between them. But not all of its young actors get first billings in the film, let alone the overweight kid and the ethnic minorities. It centres itself on Dakin (Dominic Cooper), the insatiable ladies man, the sexually confused Posner (Samuel Barnett) and Rudge (Russell Tovey), the frustrated jock.
Then again, a point can be made that the film is not so much about the students as it is about their conflicted and yet somewhat puerile teachers. These teachers see themselves through their students, and find themselves attracted to them because of it. Griffiths discreetly gay Hector commands the screen with his firm grip on the florid linguistics the dialogue offers up and sinks his teeth into his salty dialogue with obvious relish while the underappreciated Mrs. Lintott cements her place as the true heart and soul of the production, despite her abbreviated screen time and disapprovingly hang-dog exterior.
When a seduction game ensues amidst the scrambling for undergraduate places in the coveted universities and true insecurities bubble to the surface, raising a few questions about the films subversive quantity of controversies. The differences of ideologies in education are examined through its differing teachers, with the students held up as a counterpoint to the dispute. When can emotions play a part in the alienating disposition of history? With an unsettlingly glib acceptance of sexual teacher-student relationships, were left to wonder at the games and impetuses behind it all was something lost in translation? Perhaps, these unctuous students and teachers are nothing but talking heads, espousing ideas and debatable causes instead of the real people they should have been.