Originally released in the U.K. 21 December 2007
Screenplay by Piers Ashworth and Nick Moorcroft with additional material by Jamie Minoprio and Jonathan M. Stern
Directed by Oliver Parker and Barnaby Thompson
Starring Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Lena Headey, Russell Brand, Talulah Riley, and Gemma Arterton
My rating: ★★ stars
A silly, sometimes funny, but ultimately uneven time-waster.
St. Trinian’s reboots the successful St. Trinian’s franchise that began with The Belles of St. Trinian’s in 1954 and produced four sequels. In the new film, St. Trinian’s, run by Miss Camilla Fritton (Rupert Everett), is the worst girls’ school in Britain. As such, it becomes the primary target for new education minister Geoffrey Thwaites (Colin Firth). The girls of St. Trinian’s must fight off the threats from Thwaites and from the school’s chronic debt to prevent the closure of the school.
I was not a fan of the original version of this tale. I found it dated and slow-going. On a structural level, I thought it lacked a point-of-view character through whose eyes the audience could experience the story. This version rectifies that problem with Miss Fritton’s good-for-nothing brother, Carnaby (also Everett), bringing his thoroughly ordinary daughter, Annabelle (Talulah Riley), to attend the school. Annabelle acts as the audience surrogate as she encounters the unconventional and hectic environment of St. Trinian’s.
To the film’s credit, the jokes based around the notion of St. Trinian’s outrageousness generally hit their mark. The more elaborate humorous sequences range from the very good—for example, Thwaites’s investigative forays into St. Trinian’s—to the painfully bad, including an uncomfortable, ill-conceived scene involving the hazing of Annabelle near the beginning.
Everett’s Miss Fritton is a far more knowing and eccentric figure than Alastair Sim’s in The Belles of St. Trinian’s. Everett, thus, gives a more unrestrained and campy performance. The filmmakers’ choice to make Miss Fritton a parody of Prince Charles’s wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, seems needlessly mean-spirited and cruel for a silly confection of a film like this one.
Among the adults, Firth; Lena Headey, as a sympathetic and repressed new teacher; and Russell Brand, as Flash, the girls’ go-between for illegal deals (the role originated by George Cole in the original series of films) have the most to do and bring out the best in what the script gives them. Some viewers might object to Flash’s pathetic crush on seductive head girl Kelly Jones (Gemma Arterton), but, in the execution, Brand makes a thirty-year-old man turning completely tongue tied in front of a pretty girl endearing rather than creepy. Far more problematic for me was the incident near the end of the movie where one of the adult characters drugs another and proceeds to have sexual relations with him. Had the genders been reversed, the event would not have been played for laughs.
Like The Belles of St. Trinian’s, this film suffers from a surfeit of characters. Very few get a chance to be developed beyond a few jokes. The number of girls we’re asked to follow could be trimmed. Instead of three members of the “Posh Totty” clique, the film could focus on one. The roles played by Juno Temple, Lily Cole, Kathryn Drysdale, and Paloma Faith could be condensed into two characters at the most. The whole business with the publicity specialist played by Mischa Barton adds nothing to the film. Many great British character actors, including Toby Jones, Celia Imrie, Fenella Woolgar, Jodie Whittaker, and Anna Chancellor are wasted in roles that are little more than cameos. The failures here occurred both at the script stage and in the editing phase.
This film would probably play best to an audience of middle school-age girls. Unlike The Belles of St. Trinian’s, the focus here is clearly on the hijinks of the students, not on the problems of the adults. Some of the jokes are overly juvenile. The soundtrack is filled with overloud pop music. However, American girls might have difficulty with the amount of British slang in the film. Ultimately, the film displays a lack of care. Its wild unevenness, excess of characters, and ill-considered and puerile moments undermine the cleverness of much of the humor and the fresh, fast-paced fun of the rest of the film.