and Barnaby Thompson
Based more obviously on Ronald Searle’s St Trinian’s cartoons than on the 1950s films featuring Alistair Sim in drag, this gymslip of naughtiness for the naughties could easily have been one of the year’s most dire films. Consider the cast: Russell Brand trying to act without his own material; supermodel Lily Cole trying to act (full stop) and Stephen Fry given the job of playing himself. What’s to like?
From the off, this slender budgeted Britflick is a loud, rude, bawdy and laugh-out-loud funny pitch both to fans of Searle’s work and the original films, and crucially to a teenage audience. It’s less “jolly hockeysticks” and more Carry On Schooling, billed as a “reimagining” (a la Tim Burton’s take on Planet Of The Apes) rather than remake or tribute. As well it should be – the world has changed a lot in 50 years, but, as the film demonstrates, in some ways it hasn’t changed all that much.
Not only does this revisiting namecheck every teenage clique of its day – posh totty, chavs, emo kids et al – but it also updates the series’ slang to the present time. And the girls’ behaviour now would make their 1950s counterparts blush. The chemistry lab is given over to a vodka distillery. The posh totty seems to be an escort service.
Crucial to the success of this endeavour is Rupert Everett in the Sim-like double role of a dragged up headmistress, Miss Fritton, and her brother Carnaby. With a riot of outlandish costumes – Elizabethan garb to pink jumpsuit – and bunny-like front teeth, Camilla Fritton seems inspired as much by her namesake the Duchess of Cornwall as Sim’s creations half a century ago. As executive producer Everett sprinkles the script with in-jokes; in one heat of a school quiz the girls are up against Ampleforth, his own school.
In Colin Firth as the education minister, Everett has the perfect ‘straight man’ to spark off. Firth, for his part, has his entire career sent up mercilessly. He gets dry-humped by a small dog called D’Arcy (Pride & Prejudice and Bridget Jones), chucked into a fountain (Bridget Jones: Edge Of Reason), becomes involved with Vermeer’s Girl With A Pearl Ear-ring and, most mirthfully of all, has a slo-mo shot in a wet white shirt, a recreation of the endlessly discussed moment from Pride & Prejudice).
We see the school initially through the eyes of Carnaby’s daughter Annabelle, the new girl in the school played by the excellent Talulah Riley. Essentially dumped in the place to save on school fees, the straight-laced newbie is swiftly indoctrinated into St Trinian’s ways, eventually discovering her inner hellraiser and becoming an integral part of a convoluted plot to save the school (which involves winning a quiz hosted by Stephen Fry, stealing a painting from the National Gallery and pimping Brand’s Flash Harry off as a gay German art dealer, amongst much else).
Also excellent is newcomer Gemma Arterton as the head girl. Sporting a look not a million miles from Sophie Ellis Bextor, she pitches her performance perfectly between authority and anarchy, her character running rings around Brand’s Flash Harry and somehow marshalling the girls and the teachers as only she can in her efforts to save the school from closure at Firth’s hand.
Lily Cole, in her big-screen debut, gets a sizeable part as head of the geeks and acquits herself well as a sort of female, ginger Harry Potter. And somebody behind the scenes evidently thought, ‘Well, why not?’ when it came round to having Girls Aloud in to sing a song at the end.
If anything there’s almost too much crammed in to this film. With the potential for a series but perhaps not the budget, it’s as if the team behind it wanted to get everything done and dusted in one film in case follow-ups wouldn’t be forthcoming. Consequently the gags come and go and some of the cast, notably the teachers played by Toby Jones and Lena Headey, seem to exist only to have things done to them.
But, released at the perfect time, just before Christmas, Parker and Thompson’s take on St Trinian’s is an upbeat romp that will cause all but the most tiresome sourpuss to grin and guffaw.