The History Boys treats teaching as an art and makes it thrilling. Watching and listening to its lead character Hector dissect a Thomas Hardy poem is more vivid and emotionally startling than any CSI TV show, because what Hector demonstrates are the forensics of the soul. While Casino Royale continues to rev up action audiences with an agent On Her Majesty's Secret Service, the freshest piece of writing for dramatic audiences, The History Boys, has come from a man who served On Her Majesty's Public Broadcasting Service.
Most Americans got their first taste of Beyond the Fringe comic Alan Bennett's eloquence as a dramatist with the hourlong 1983 BBC film An Englishman Abroad, which turned a real-life encounter in the Soviet Union between stage and screen actress Coral Browne and notorious defector Guy Burgess (Alan Bates) into brilliant social comedy. Bennett's equally splendid BBC film, A Question of Attribution, in some ways anticipated Stephen Frears' and Peter Morgan's The Queen, and he had an enormous stage success with The Madness of George III. (It fared less well on screen as The Madness of King George.)
The History Boys (Fox Searchlight) Starring Richard Griffiths, Frances de la Tour, Stephen Campbell Moore, Dominic Cooper, Samuel Barnett. Directed by Nicholas Hytner. Rated R. Time 109 minutes.