WHEN AMERICAN Film-makers include gay characters in their films, they tend to focus on them as problematic—the problems of coming out; the heady, tragic problems of finding a boyfriend; family problems; and on and on. For films that incorporate well-rounded gay characters but aren’t about the supposed problems posed by gayness, it’s usually necessary to look to the U.K. or the Continent. Nicholas Hytner’s The History Boys, the film adaptation of Alan Bennett’s Olivier- and Tony-Award winning play, is the latest of these, and while it’s far from perfect, it offers a great deal of pleasure.
Hytner, who also directed both the West End (National Theatre) and Broadway productions, has retained his entire stage cast for the movie, with mixed results. Many of the intimate scenes are quite effective. Most of the ensemble set-pieces, on the other hand, have a dull, over-rehearsed feel; it’s not easy to escape the feeling that the actors are reciting rather than acting. This gives the film a wildly uneven texture.