Dirs: Oliver Parker & Barnaby Thompson UK. 2007. 101 mins
A modern make-over may have worked wonders for James Bond but it fails to rejuvenate another great British institution in the lacklustre return of Ronald Searle's unruly schoolgirls. The St Trinian's films were a commercially viable franchise for twenty-five years until the series fizzled out with Wildcats Of St Trinian's in 1980. The revival cheapens and diminishes the anarchic spirit of the original, eliminating any potential curiosity value for nostalgic older viewers.
The coarse comedy, deafening soundtrack and smattering of fashionable names (Russell Brand, Girls Aloud) should still allow the film to connect with its target audience of young teenage girls in the UK thanks to the aggressive, saturation marketing of distributor/co-producer Entertainment. Foreign prospects are slim for a film whose English eccentricity and pantomime-like exaggeration lends it a home grown appeal that is unlikely to travel.
Desperate to appear hip and happening, the screenplay by Piers Ashworth and Nick Moorcroft reworks elements of the plot from The Belles Of St Trinian's (1954) gussying them up with contemporary references, profanity and a generous dollop of smut. Youtube humiliation and mentions of CSI and Desperate Housewives are worn as badges of modernity and St Trinian's is even dubbed 'Hogwarts for pikeys'.
A school for free-spirited young ladies, St Trinian's is presided over by disreputable headmistress Camilla Fritton (Everett). Her art dealer brother Carnaby (Everett) is only too happy to impose daughter Annabelle (Talulah Riley) on her as a new pupil. Annabelle suffers the customary humiliations reserved for newcomers but learns to embrace the team spirit when the school faces the threat of closure from a combination of unpaid debts and the interference of stuffy Education Minister Geoffrey Thwaites (Firth). A Mission Impossible-style art heist is planned to deal with the financial embarrassment whilst Camilla decides to work her feminine wiles on Geoffrey who just happens to be an old flame from her university days.
Slapdash in its sense of plotting and logic, the sloppy, self-indulgent nature of the film is shown in its willingness to exploit the past history of co-stars Firth and Everett for cheap gags. An over-amorous dog is called Mr Darcy, Firth strolls around in a clinging wet shirt at one point and one punchline involves a lame reference to their joint film debut in Another Country (1984). The two even duet over the closing credits with a version of Love Is in the Air.
If the film overplays the Everett/Firth connections it under-employs a game and talented cast of major British character actors (Celia Imrie, Toby Jones etc) who are given precious little time to make a major impression. That may explain the lack of subtlety in some of the performances. Jodie (Venus) Whittaker contributes some amusing moments as Beverly, a secretary who appears to be modelled on Bubbles from television sitcom Absolutely Fabulous. Ubiquitous British television personality Russell Brand is disappointingly bland as dodgy geezer Flash Harry, the role originated by George Cole.
Working in tandem, directors Oliver Parker and Barnaby Thompson contribute to the frantic, scattershot nature of the project with a style that uses every trick from split-screen to slow-motion to try and retain our interest in events. It lends the film the kind of sugar rush burst of energy that comes from consuming a fizzy drink and is quickly followed by exhaustion.
St Trinian's is a more polished affair than Carry On Columbus (1992) but it leads to the same conclusion that some cherished comic institutions are best left to the cosy comfort of television matinees and sweet remembrance rather than brought into the harsh glare of the modern world.
Production Company/ Backers:
Entertainment Film Distributors
Ealing Studios International
44 (0) 20 8567 6655
based on the Ronald Searle cartoons