As snippets of ‘God Save the Queen’ drift down the stairs of the Odeon Leicester Square, the mass of security personnel, PR folk, police and press eagerly await the arrival of the new Princes of British cinema, the history boys. It was only a matter of time before Alan Bennett’s mega-successful stage play was brought to the big screen, and tonight’s Royal World Premiere is a celebration of The History Boys’ global triumph.
This rambunctious tale of eight lively sixth-formers all gunning for a place at Oxford or Cambridge originated within the confines of the National Theatre. Following the almighty critical acclaim bestowed upon the play’s opening run, the cast – which includes Richard Griffiths and Frances De La Tour – made a seamless, equally sensational transfer to Broadway.
Early reactions indicate that the movie adaptation, which features the exact same cast, is set to continue The History Boys’ ascent to the top of the class: “Well you never know how it’s going to go”, said director Nicholas Hytner, “but I’m not surprised at how well the performances come across on the screen. By doing it for the camera, [the cast] were able to do it for themselves. They didn’t have to include an extra thousand people every time.” Alan Bennett was also keen to enthuse about the move from stage to screen: “It’s a very good account of the play, and if you liked the play on the stage, you’ll like the film” said the writer. “Also, to have had the same cast working on the film was vitally important. You don’t often get that.”
Sam Anderson, who plays one of the seventh-term pupils, gave his views on The History Boys experience: “When you’re onstage, you have the opportunity to change things on a daily basis. You can see how to improve things. And making the film was just so much fun. We’d been doing the play for a year, so we knew what we had to do, but, of course, when you’ve done a day’s work, that’s it. You can never change it.”
As the boys’ ebullient teacher Hector, Richard Griffith’s impassioned performance is central to the film’s narrative and this stalwart of the British stage and screen obviously relishes the part. However, it seems the casts’ whirlwind journey from closing night on Broadway to opening night here in London may have taken its toll: “It’s loathsome. I’m jetlagged, I don’t know what day it is, I can’t think what I’m saying and HRH will be here in a minute…so it’s all a bit scary” the actor quipped.
With the arrival of Prince Charles – a Cambridge history boy himself – and The Duchess Of Cornwall imminent, Empire is herded out of the cinema with Alan Bennett’s thoughts on the guest of honour still hanging in the air: “He came to the play and enjoyed it, so I’m very glad he’s coming tonight. He’s also a very good person to have in the audience, because he laughs very loudly which tends to really get people going.”
The History Boys opens across the UK on October 13.