The Devine Comedy of The History Boys

The following does not take on a review form; it is a response to an editorial from the Sun Herald columnist Miranda Devine. I do not make any personal attacks on her, fortunately, but I felt a pressing urge to deconstruct her grossly inaccurate words about The History Boys that turned, once again, into an attack on homosexuality’s place in society.
(But she has a gay friend! That means she’s beyond reproach! … As long as she keeps this friend away from children, everyone will be just fine! No need to panic!)

I will write a review of the movie later; it eventually came to grab me, and I teared up at the end. As I cite specific examples of character conduct within, this will contain spoilers. It’s a slightly edited (ie less profane, because apparently profanity weakens an argument) version of something I originally wrote for my journal.

Oh, Miranda Devine! You have outdone yourself!
The emphases are my doing.

Censors fail to give the true picture

JUDGING by the reviews and trailers for the Fox Searchlight movie The History Boys, you would think it was a modern-day Goodbye, Mr Chips – one of those quaint British chalk films without too many girls to slow down the dialogue. Dead Poets Society without Robin Williams; Chariots Of Fire without the running.

1983 is not modern day, Miranda Devine! Although you’re probably talking about it being made last year. Regardless, it is important to set the tone of contrariness this early in the piece.

But you would be wrong.

The History Boys is a fraud. It is a pederastic fantasy about teachers who fondle their students’ genitals in the nicest way and the boys don’t mind at all.

Not quite, Miranda; not quite. They see Hector’s activity as harmless and they don’t let him make any progress. It’s a sort of pity thing: Dakin clearly labels Hector as a “homosexual and a sad fuck”.

It’s about a British boys’ school in the 1980s where all the students are openly or latently gay. Even the flagrantly heterosexual pretty boy, Dakin, who is bedding the headmaster’s busty assistant, seamlessly switches sides, offering oral sex to Irwin, the slimmer of his two gay teachers, out of gratitude for winning a scholarship to Oxford.

One is gay; one is too religious to have a sexuality, and is therefore confused either way; Dakin, on the other hand, has an inexplicable (in his mind) attraction to Mr. Irwin. This came across hilariously because he made it seem as if telling Irwin that he would allow himself to be sucked off was some sort of reward.
But wow, it sure is fun to analyse movies on the basest of surfaces!

The hero of the movie is Hector, a loveable, obese, married pedophile and pedagogue played by Richard Griffiths, who declares that teaching, or “the transmission of knowledge is, in itself, an erotic act”.

What Hector does is an immoral flouting of the teacher/student relationship. Every student he takes is of age, so there is none of this pedophilia stuff actually going on. The one gay student is seventeen, and is therefore never invited on Hector’s rides. Clearly what Hector is doing is not right, but it’s not actually pedophilia.

The only fleshed-out female character is the history teacher played by Frances de la Tour, the horsy, gender-neutral giantess Madame Maxime in Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire.

She knows about Hector’s proclivities but does nothing.

Oh, seriously, Miranda. Mrs. Lintott suspected that Hector was gay, but she had no idea that he was actually touching his students. She was not angry at him for getting caught, but rather for doing it in the first place.

Here Miranda is also essentially calling Frances de la Tour ugly and sexless, as if all women need to conform to her standard of beauty (let me guess: blonde and blue eyes?). Let’s conveniently ignore Madame Maxime’s blushing school girl love for Hagrid, shall we? That would help us make the point splendidly!

Devine is pretty much perpetuating the idea that homosexual society and homosexual fiction is inherently misogynistic because no one wants to have sex with the women in it. I will not deny that there is misogyny in homosexual circles (and I would like to punch anyone who calls a woman a “fish”), but seriously? No.

Based on the British play by Alan Bennett, winner of six Tony awards, the movie uses the same cast, which explains the stagy feel and some overegged acting.

It’s not a bad movie for a niche gay agenda market. And perhaps in sophisticated circles it is worth debating whether hysteria about pedophilia can demonise relatively innocent behaviour and inspire witch-hunts.

Ooh! Gay agenda! Clearly here she means “pedophiles”. Miranda saved herself here by including “niche” in her sentence, as if to say “not all gay men are pedophiles”, but you can be damned sure she’s thinking it.
Do I really need to say anything about the second bolded sentence? Why no, I do believe that Miranda has finally spoken for herself, as if to say “I am a philistine, and have just defined my own opinion piece.”

But you have to ask why the movie’s true nature has been hidden so successfully that people are mistaking it for family fare at multiplexes from Broadway to Castle Hill.

Last weekend I ran into a friend, who is no prude, reeling out of a suburban theatre with his wife and two preteen children. They had walked out of The History Boys just as straight boy Dakin asks his teacher Irwin, “if there was any chance of your sucking me off”.

My friend felt he had been tricked by the M rating and misleading advertising into taking his children to a grossly unsuitable movie which normalises pedophile behaviour and promotes a world view in which heterosexuality is aberrant, women repulsive and marriage a sham.

While I agree that the trailers mentioned nothing of homosexual behaviour, what the Hell Miranda! This movie says nothing bad about heterosexuality! You are projecting your own feelings about homosexuality onto this movie, and thus twisting it into your own twisted heterosexual agenda! Mrs. Lintott was a lovely woman and Fiona was not presented in any negative light whatsoever!
As for the marriage, I guess there’s not a lot that I can say about that, but still: it’s one marriage. It’s not all marriages.

The part of the walk out, conveniently timed for the “friend” in question to run into Miranda, is also about five or ten minutes before the film’s conclusion. Somehow this friend managed to weather the rest of it, and all of the horrid lessons that were being imparted upon his children.

How could the Classification Board get it so wrong? The History Boys has the same M rating as Spider-Man 3, Harry Potter and Kenny, while in the US it was rated R because of “strong language and sexually explicit dialogue”.

Did you know? The rating system is not a catch-all! Every movie has sub-reasons for their classification. Now, the Office of Film and Literature Classification‘s Classification Database has precisely this to say about its rating of History Boys:

Moderate themes and sexual references, Moderate coarse language

If you don’t want your children exposed to sexual references, then don’t take them to see a movie which includes them in its classification warnings. Although “moderate themes” really doesn’t say anything.

I looked into Spider-Man 3, to find that it was rated M for “moderate action violence”; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was rated M for “Moderate Dark Themes and Moderate Fantasy Violence” and Kenny for “moderate coarse language and crude humour” (tee hee, crude).

The bottom line here is that “M” stands for “Recommended for Mature Audiences”, which is not short hand for “family fare”. You are only guaranteed family fare in a G or PG rated movie (although Marie Antoinette was only rated PG, but it is unlikely that a family would want to see it.
I think that the PG abbreviation says it all: PG stands for “Parental Guidance”. Does being rated M, and losing those two letters, absolve a parent of their Parental Guidance responsibility? I really do not think so. The rating here includes sexual content. If you do not want your children witnessing that, then it’s there on the sign for you to judge. It really should not matter precisely which brand of sexuality is on display in a movie.

M is the normal rating that applies to most movies that are not explicitly marketed to children. It is a warning beacon, burning in the sky. I pulled this particularly choice quote from the Motion Picture Association of America:

The voluntary rating system is not a surrogate parent, nor should it be. It cannot, and should not, insert itself in family decisions that only parents can make. Its purpose is to give pre-screened informational warnings, so that parents can form their own judgments. PG-13 is designed to make parental decisions easier for films between PG and R.

There is no clear-cut analogy between the OFLC and the MPAA classification systems. Some things that are rated M in Australia, such as The Blues Brothers, are rated R in America. Certainly, their R is nowhere near analogous to ours, serving more as our MA, but for people over seventeen rather than fifteen. NC-17 is their proper equivalent of our R, with none under seventeen allowed at all.

Decisions need to be made on a case by case basis. M is no guarantee of family viewing (would you take your pre-teen children to see Sunshine, for instance?), but I shouldn’t really be made to apologise for idiots.

With our untrustworthy classification system, movie reviews would usually alert parents to offensive content.

But no.

The Sunday Age last week described The History Boys as “extremely lively and often witty . . . a compelling debate about the workings of modern education”. Not a mention of homoeroticism.

Here you’re not complaining about pedophilia, Miranda: you’re complaining out and out about homoeroticism. Homoeroticism does not need to be apologised for, and I staunchly do not believe that we should add homoerotic content specifically to a list of warnings about “stuff that you don’t like”.

Nor The Sunday Telegraph: “When a group of gifted history students are vying for places at Oxford and Cambridge universities, the arrival of an inspirational teacher turns their world upside-down.” Nor The Sydney Morning Herald or any number of publications

Just pointing out here that both the print and online versions of the editorial left this sentence incomplete.

Overseas, New York magazine at least mentioned the topic, calling the movie “brilliant” and Hector a “hero”.

“Apart from a tendency to grope the boys’ genitals while carrying them on his motorbike, he is a dream instructor.” Apart from that.

What you fail to acknowledge, Miranda, is that this is not what the movie is about.

Review after review neglects to acknowledge the elephant in the room. Wikipedia has no such blind spot, accurately categorising the movie as “pederastic film” and “LGBT (lesbian, gay or transgender-related) film”.

You don’t have to object to the movie, just to the inexplicable deception of the audience.

Funny, Miranda, you appear to have spent the last 495 words objecting to the movie. So when, precisely, do we want children to be exposed to the idea of homosexuality? When they find themselves attracted to people of the same gender, and then wonder what the heck is going on because they’ve got no idea what homosexuality is? No, clearly not; if you don’t mention homosexuality to your children, how are they going to learn how evil it is, and that its practitioners burn in Hell?
I guess either way, you’re screwed.

The trailer for The History Boys features Dakin trying to get into Fiona’s pants and being told that it is “No Man’s Land”; it features Irwin and Timms making a joke about masturbation; it features several instances of profanity. While it does not mention the homosexual content in any form, it gives enough information to let a parent know if they should take their children to see it:

Devine is living proof that one can sit in happy judgment of others without taking any responsibility on themselves; they can take action against the education system for exposing them to Brokeback Mountain (yes, this was inappropriate, but not millions of dollars inappropriate); they can complain against the classification board for doing their job. This editorial is proof, once again, that violence is better than sexuality and that sexuality, when it is mentioned at all, should be exclusively heteronormative.

I could not tell you why I’m surprised; after Miranda’s totally contradictory piece about Brokeback Mountain last year, it’s easy to see that she doesn’t really understand anything about human relations, regardless of sexuality.


  1. Wavatar Jon Froscher July 10, 2007
  2. Wavatar Alex July 10, 2007
  3. Wavatar Tim December 30, 2007

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