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“The History Boys.”

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"Well it's just one fucking thing after another, isn't it?"
"The History Boys" is both a fine addition to the hoary old tradition of inspirational schoolteacher movies and a startlingly enjoyable subversion of it. Based on Alan Bennett’s successful London-to-Broadway play of the same name and shot with the original stage cast before they embarked on their world tour, "The History Boys" follows a group of 1980s Sheffield grammar school boys whose unexpectedly good A-level results lead the exultant headmaster to call them back for another term in order to prepare them for the exams to get into Oxford and Cambridge, and, hopefully, to move his school up in the national standings.

Even if the intricacies of the British school system remain as elusive and mysterious to you as they do to us, the substance of "The History Boys" will be evocative to anyone who cares to recall the college application races, where learning is stripped of any relevance other than how it would help gain entry into the best school. The boys, a boisterous, arrogant, endearing group, the darlings of the school, have until now been coached by Hector (Richard Griffiths), a waddling bundle of academic enthusiasm fond of quoting Housman in plummy tones, but just as fond of breaking up lessons with singing and reenactments of scenes from "Brief Encounter." The headmaster, with his vague, classist aspirations, judges that the boys need "polish" and brings in a ringer — Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore), a young Oxford graduate who’s more concerned with results and strategy than enjoyment and meaning.

There are two stealthy thrills hidden within "The History Boys" — the first is that the film actually manages to convey an unfeigned intellectual excitement. Bennett’s crackling dialogue never (well, rarely — Frances de la Tour, as Mrs. Lintott, gets one jarring monologue on the place of women in history that’s too theatrical for its own good) steps outside of the bounds of realistically smart, grounded conversation. The boys are, indeed, boys — clever and cocky, they banter and argue and make dirty jokes and are terrifyingly more alive than their teachers, whose indulgent hold on authority is undermined by the fact that they seem half enraptured by the youth and promise of their pupils.

Or totally enraptured. The other unexpected pleasure of "The History Boys" is the film’s nonchalant frankness about sexuality in a single-sex school. Posner (Samuel Barnett, a standout) is hopelessly in love with head heartbreaker Dakin (Dominic Cooper), who’s perfectly aware of the fact — it’s hard to miss when Posner, in one of the best scenes, sings "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" to him across the classroom. Dakin’s also refreshingly matter-of-fact and unbothered by Posner’s worship; he’s developed a bit of an unusual crush, himself. Hector has a habit of giving boys a ride home on his moped and taking the opportunity to grope them; the boys treat this more as an annoyance than a violation (one asks another, jokingly, if he thinks they’ve all been scarred for life), though it ultimately proves Hector’s downfall. Even the cool-minded Irwin gets drawn into a dangerous flirtation, as if the roles of teacher and student are inherently balanced on the edge of instruction and enticement.

Nicholas Hytner
is an old hand at directing plays-turned-functional- screenplays — the director of London’s National Theatre, he’s previously shepherded "The Madness of King George" and "The Crucible" to film. He’s managed to avoid the airlessness that plagues most stage-to-screen transfers, in part because his excellent cast seems too vibrant to be contained on one set, even if the main part of the action is confined to the classroom. Of the boys, Cooper and Barnett are memorable — most of the others are some degree of underwritten, though their chemistry as a group is unparalleled. Griffiths is also very good, a great, ludicrous and tragic figure dramatically unlike the average teacher seen on screen (between this film and "Half Nelson," 2006 seems to be the year we took an axe to the legacy of "Dead Poets Society" and "To Sir With Love").

Having never seen the play, we can’t speak to what was lost in translation. Given the differences in run time, there’s clearly plenty that didn’t make the cut, including, apparently, a present day frame that gives the events in the center some perspective. When the film does pull back, finally, we wished it hadn’t — not only because of the clumsiness of the closing, but also because there’s a moment shortly before the conclusion that would have made for the most delightfully anarchic happy ending in the history of school stories. Take that, John Keating!

Opens in limited release November 21st.

+ "The History Boys (Fox Searchlight)

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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