Theatrically, “The History Boys” became history one day and the next day started making history cinematically. Pretty fast work, even by Sam Katzman standards. But for the director of the play and film, Nicholas Hytner, the quick turnaround seems slightly longer in coming.
“I think it feels like the film is on a fast track here in America because the Broadway run was so recent,” he says. The Tony (and Olivier) Award-winning drama by Alan Bennett ended a cheered New York run Oct. 1, and on Oct. 2 the film version enjoyed a royal world premiere at Leicester Square in London, attended by Britain’s Prince Charles as well as every man jack of “The History Boys.”
“It was a premiere in aid of the Prince of Wales’ charity, the Prince’s Trust. He and Camilla really liked the play, which is why, I think, they were happy to come to the film,” Hytner says.
The cheeks of the eight title players were barely dry from their farewell performance in New York — this after 2½ years of togetherness, practically the equivalent of the college education they are all gunning for in the play/film.
“The premiere gala was a pretty surreal experience for them because they literally had not slept,” Hytner reports. “They were doing all this within 24 hours of playing their final matinee on Broadway.”
Hytner, who is also artistic director of the National Theater, drafted the cast into screen duty in May 2005 when they relinquished their roles to a replacement cast in London.
“The film actually came before Broadway because when we shot it, the arrangements for Broadway had not been made,” he notes.
Somehow, he managed to extricate himself from his intense tangle of administrative duties at the National long enough to direct the film version.
“It was a bit of an effort, but I think because it wasn’t a huge military operation, because preparation was relatively straightforward and it was nearby and already cast, that’s why I was able to do it.”
Hytner believes the movie’s biz and buzz will create new stage customers for “The History Boys,” so he has arranged for a third cast to start previewing his National production Dec. 21 for a West End premiere Jan. 3 at Wyndham’s Theater.