Public schools are making a comeback in high-end British film right now. After Slaughterhouse Rulez comes Old Boys, shot at Lancing College in Sussex and starring everyone’s favourite young nerd Alex Lawther.
He’s Amberson, the weakling always picked last for the school’s game of Streamers, a ridiculous free-for-all akin to Eton’s Wall game (I’m assuming, having never played or seen it) and who falls timorously for Agnes (Pauline Etienne), the daughter of the new French teacher (Denis Menochet).
Unfortunately for Amberson, the self-assured Agnes has herself (rather too obviously) fallen for the lunkish looks of star player and all-round school hero, Winchester, the Winch man, the Winch hunter general, The Mighty Winch (Jonah Hauer-King).
Amberton becomes the Go-Between in a Cyrano-style school comedy, ferrying trinkets and messages between Agnes and Winchester and, of course, filming or drawing or penning the replies himself, so sensitively that Agnes falls further in love… with the wrong boy.
I tried to like a lot of this – Lawther has an outsider appeal the boarding school setting is well depicted, all fusty and out of time and dilapidated and freezing, as if stuck around the mid-1980s, but you’re never quite sure if or why – other than mobile phones would, of course, have ruined the entire thing…
It has echoes of If, Kes, The 400 Blows and Son of Rambow, without realistically getting anywhere near the quality of them. It has a nice obsession with all things French, particularly Agnes, though I can’t say this performance is particularly winsome – a French girl would definitely have smoked in the 80s.
I suppose it’s likeable and sweet, leading up to a climax that is both rushed yet inert. There are some keen details of school life (towel flicking) and broad caricatures in portraying the teaching staff (strangulated Shakespeare quotes abound) but, regrettably, I can’t make many bolder claims for it than that.