Well, Dear Reader, here I am reviewing ‘The History Boys’. I’m sure everybody else has seen the film. I don’t do films. (Unlike one of the characters in THB who was instructed to say he enjoyed ‘film’. Another character inevitably asked him if there was only one movie he liked!)
‘The History Boys’ should have pressed all the right buttons for me, seeing as it was about grammar school boys being prepared for Oxbridge exams in the 1980s. I was a grammar school girl myself and I applied – in vain – to Oxford in the 1970s, to read history actually. (My father, who had attended Cambridge at the time when you could just pay to go there, wanted it, and I was never particularly bothered. Manchester suited me fine.) The boys’ preparation was carried out by Mr Hector, who rides a motorbike and affects eccentricity and touches up the boys, and Mr Irwin, modern, serious and ruthless. There were parts of it that were witty, and many more which were iconoclastic, particularly the idea that to get into Oxford or Cambridge you had to stand all accepted viewpoints on their head and argue the opposite, in order to stand out from the rest. For example (I quote from the text): “The Holocaust… it has origins. It has consequences. It’s a subject like any other.” Although the two schoolmasters came out as distinct characters, the boys all blended into one, and there was only one female character.
Did I enjoy reading this? Not particularly, although I was aware that it was well-written and thoughtful. Did I laugh? Not once, Dear Reader (although I think I was supposed to).
Tomorrow I go to see this play performed at The Mercury Theatre in Colchester. Why didn’t I wait and see the performance? You may think my answer strange but this is it. Because I don’t like surprises. I wanted to know what it was like beforehand, so that, if there were parts of it I found demanding, I could work through them in my own way. This is why I don’t like film…s. I don’t want some actor doing all the interpretation for me. I love (reading) Dickens, but I find dramatisations of his work all wrong, too dramatic, hamming up the gory and unpleasant bits (like the catch in ‘Magwitch’s’ throat in ‘Great Expectations’) to the extent that you can’t follow the story. Dickens always knew how far to go, whereas many other writers will wring the last drop of emotion from the reader. Why should we enjoy being made to cry? I don’t. Am I alone in this?
When I’m writing, I am in control. I know how far I’m going to go with the horror, tragedy and emotion.