Oliver Parker & Barnaby Thompson | 97 mins | download | 12
I really didn’t think I was going to like St. Trinian’s. It seemed to be aimed squarely at teens whose quality barometer is fixed at Girls Aloud being the best music artists of all time and aren’t old enough to have seen There’s Something About Mary. Certainly, some of the film lives up to these expectations, but other bits are surprisingly good.
For one thing, it has a pleasantly wicked sense of humour, which must be pushing that 12 certificate on moral grounds — 10-year-olds producing black market vodka, for just one example. There’s a number of good, brief, visual gags too, such as the RE department having a Practical Study of the Easter Story with a girl strung up like Jesus on the cross (Christian bating is always funny). On the other hand, it merrily includes some ancient gags too — a dog shags someone’s leg! Hilarity! But then again, it makes no bones about being aimed at a relatively young audience, and for them this probably seems wonderfully fresh and naughty. Thankfully it’s not all down on this level — it has an even better line in Colin Firth spoofing than the Bridget Jones movies, and while some of these references may fly over the heads of that intended audience, they should at least keep any adult viewers amused. My personal favourite was the two 10-year-old girls who keep quoting famous movie lines. Simple, but effective.
A fair number of people seem to have considered the moral vacancy of St. Trinian’s’ style of comedy a bad thing, claiming impressionable girls will copy the characters’ actions or at least be influenced by their anarchic attitude. Not likely, I say — the school is such a fantasy-mess that I think even the very young would struggle to believe it as a potential reality. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that most of it is relatively harmless fun — if only some of The Youth Of Today would copy this lot rather than getting stupidly drunk, pregnant as soon as they’re able, and knifing each other every evening, then we might not be in the state we’re in. But anyway…
Through any weak patches, affairs are buoyed by a rather wonderful cast. The likes of Colin Firth and Rupert Everett are clearly having a ball, the young (though most not as young as their characters) cast all do a good job, with Gemma Arterton standing out in particular, and anything featuring Stephen Fry is at least worth a look. Yes, he’s only playing himself (literally) on a version of University Challenge that no doubt owes something to QI (even if it is just Fry hosting), but luckily he’s given a smidgen more to do than just read out cue cards. In spite of which names may be above the title or which characters get introduced first, it’s decidedly an ensemble piece — every time you think a lead is emerging another takes centre stage. In that respect it might be seen as a bit messy, but each one gets a decent enough through-line.
Incidentally, it’s incredibly British — not just in its setting and style, but also the very current cultural references — which might explain why it still hasn’t had a US release. It wouldn’t look out of place premiering on TV, probably at Christmas considering the scale of it, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the budget had been TV-sized. It’s also got a posh girl played by that girl who plays a posh girl in everything on TV (namely, Lucy Punch). That doesn’t really signify much, but my God she’s done well out of playing essentially the same role in numerous productions.
Despite my preconceptions when starting out, which were all supported by the opening few minutes, I ultimately found St. Trinian’s quite enjoyable. It’s far from perfect, and every time I began to truly warm to it — I even found myself laughing at a final beat for the leg-shagging dog cribbed from a decade-old comedy (I believe I already mentioned it…) — there was another recycled or immature joke to make me despair. In spite of that, the overall impression was adequate enough.