Thursday, July 16, 2009

On the joy of watching schoolgirls raise hell from the safety of the cinema

If you've never heard of the St. Trinian's films, I feel for you.

They're based on a long series of Ronald Searle cartoons, which were in turn inspired by an experimental "free range" girl's school, St Trinean's school in Edinburgh. The cartoons were largely stand-alone gags, but like had been done to Charles Addams' "familial" creations, story and character names were created for the series of films done by the legendary Ealing studios in the UK. The girls of St. Trinian's were little terrors - they ran book on sports, received education in both ballet and blackmail, and generally "Did as they liked".

Alaistair Sim (best known over here from the classic adaptation of A Christmas Carol) played a dual role as headmistress Miss Fritton (Drag comedy has SUCH a more respected history in other countries) and her brother Clarence. World-famous-in-Britain George Cole played local petty criminal and assistant to the girls' schemes Flash Harry. There were four "classic" St T's films made, all are damn brilliant in the classic "Ealing comedy" way. A fifth was done in the 80's with little fanfare and acceptance, and won't get much more from me.

But a new film in the series was released in the UK in 2007, with a hell of a cast, and an large number of about-to-be-big castmembers as well. Far funnier than he's given credit for Rupert Everett takes on the dual role of Camilla Fritton and her brother Carnaby. Notorious character Russell Brand plays notorious character Flash Harry, and recent Bond Bird Gemma Arterton plays Head Girl (get your minds outta the gutter, it's a position in British schools vaguely akin to class president...tho in her case, maybe you're right) Kelly Jones. The plot is simple - The school is having financial issues, and the girls have to come up with a scheme to get the money to save it. This time it involves participating in School Challenge and a plot to steal Vermeer's "Girl with a Pearl Earring". (As Colin Firth also appears in this film, there's more than a couple references to the recent film of the same name as well)

It hits all the standard cliches for these types of comedies (new outsider eventually joins in and is accepted by the gang, bad people fall in mud, etc) but they're played with a freshness and fun that kept me quite happy and pleased. One scene of the entire student body teeming across Trafalgar Square and through the National Gallery was just awesome - they were filmed from a crane, and perfectly resembled the screaming mass of dust, limbs and field hockey sticks from the original cartoons, as well as the animated titles from the classic quartet of films.

There's already a sequel in the works, to feature David Tennant, just off his run in Doctor Who. He'll not be the first DW alumni to appear - female lead Talulah Riley played Miss Evangelista in the wonderful (all I'll bet Hugo-winning) episodes "Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead", and Fenella Woolgar, Agatha Christie from "The Unicorn and the Wasp" plays the sports matron.

The film is headed for the USA on August 28th - I recommend it for fans of the originals, of Ealing comedies in general, teen "kids vs the adults" comedies, and for tweens as well. There's a copy of the poster at

It's interesting that Talulah Riley loses center spot on the poster to the slightly more recognizable (and sexy) Arterton, but NEITHER get actual name billing on the poster. That's reserved for more popular Everett and Firth, as well as Brand and now famous in US Lena Headey and Mischa Barton.

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