Koch on film


By Ed Koch

“The History Boys” (+)

This lovely and sensitive film, adapted from the play written by Alan Bennett, is reminiscent of the 1930s film, “Goodbye Mr. Chips,” but it packs an additional wallop.

The setting is a private English boys’ school in 1983. The headmaster (Clive Merrison) hires Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore) to help eight intellectually gifted history students prepare for their interviews at Oxford and Cambridge. The boy’s regular and eccentric history teacher, Hector (Richard Griffiths), is a homosexual who gropes the boys when they accept rides home on his motorcycle. One such groping, accidentally seen by someone, leads to his being fired. How that plays out makes up a third of the movie. A female teacher, Mrs. Lintott (Frances de la Tour), sees it all in perspective, sometimes acting like a one-person Greek chorus.

Among the eight students are the dynamic and sexually active Dakin (Dominic Cooper) and Posner (Samuel Barnett), a Jewish boy with a Noel Coward singing voice and repertoire who announces he is homosexual and also his infatuation for Dakin. What happens to each of the boys in their effort to gain admission to these top universities, the interplay between them and their teachers, and the dialogue on a host of subjects — much of it epigrams — is what makes this movie such a gem.

PA who saw the movie with me said, “I think the headmaster is pretentious and is only interested in the prestige that will accrue to his school and himself. Hector is only interested in expanding the intellectual capacities of his students, not in whether or not they are admitted to Oxford or Cambridge. Of course, he wants them admitted, but this is not his main focus. This is what makes Mrs. Lintott’s perspective so interesting.”

I preferred this movie to the play that I saw because it includes the English locale rather than the more limited stage setting. I would suggest that you see “The History Boys,” and that you also rent the video of “Goodbye Mr. Chips,” which is considered one of the best films ever made on the subject of a private boys’ schools.

“Volver” (-)

This film reminded me of a mediocre Mexican or Argentinean soap opera that might air on an American Spanish Cable TV station.

Among the cast are Raimunda (Penelope Cruz), her husband Paco (Antonio de la Tore), and her daughter Paula (Yohana Cobo). While the acting is adequate, the story, which includes a murder, incest, and an apparent return of the dead, is boring. I never thought I would use that word to describe a Pedro Almodovar film, since he has written and directed so many wonderful movies like “All About My Mother” and “Talk to Her.” 

Let’s hope “Volver” is an aberration and that he will be returning with his usually wonderful, playful scripts and outstanding direction. This is one Almodovar creation that you can skip.