'St. Trinian's: The Legend of Fritton's

The belles of Britain's most anarchic private school get to ride again.

Buoyed by bonny B.O. in Blighty and ace ancillary, the belles of Britain’s most anarchic private school get to ride again in “St. Trinian’s: The Legend of Fritton’s Gold,” a much-improved modern makeover of the ’50s franchise compared with the 2007 outing. Still, the pic is let down by unattractive, wintry color processing, lax editing and no sense of comic timing by helmer-producers Oliver Parker and Barnaby Thompson. Ruthlessly targeting Brit female tweens, the Dec. 18 release opened wide in the U.K. with a warm haul of some $2.5 million, though offshore, the girls’ legs will again be wobblier.

Headlined again by Rupert Everett (a prime mover behind the resuscitation of the franchise) in multiple roles, and with many of the original cast and tech crew encoring, this is somewhat closer to the jolly-hockey-sticks spirit of Ronald Searle’s original cartoons and the Frank Launder-Sidney Gilliat movies of yore. But like the 2007 “St. Trinian’s,” it’s still more a celebration of modern-day British “yoof” culture — in all its dumbed-down diversity — than a genuinely anti-establishment comedy.

Pic gets off to a perky start on the high seas of 1589, as famed pirate Capt. Fritton (Everett) relieves upper-class twit Lord Pomfrey (David Tennant, from TV’s “Doctor Who”) of his moolah. Pomfrey swears revenge, even if it takes, well, 420 years.

That exact amount of time later, it’s a new semester at rural, unruly St. Trinian’s, where auds are rapidly reintroduced to the pupils’ tribal divisions of chavs (rude girls), flammables, emos (goths), posh totties, geeks and (in a nod to climate change) ecos. With previous head girl Kelly (Gemma Arterton, in a cameo) now pursuing a career in espionage, headmistress Miss Fritton (Everett) gives her niece, Annabelle (Talulah Riley), the unwelcome job of corraling the tykes and teens, who are more interested in weaponry, stock trading and goofing off than in their studies.

Plot quickly kicks in when eco Celia (Juno Temple) is caught by her peers trying to find an ancient ring in the dusty school library. Turns out she was offered a handsome sum by millionaire philanthropist Piers Pomfrey (Tennant) for the Fritton heirloom, which hides a clue to the whereabouts of the pirate stash.

Sensing a solution to St. Trinian’s chronic coin problems, Miss Fritton launches a full-scale operation to find the treasure. Along the way, she’s forced to make up with onetime admirer-turned-lush Geoffrey Thwaites (Colin Firth, encoring) and take on the woman-hating secret society of which Piers is the family head.

There’s some good material here, and a few decent jokes, but neither Emma E. Hickox’s busy editing nor Parker and Thompson’s so-so direction has any feel for comedic timing or rhythm; most of the lines miss their mark or are simply inaudible in the variable sound mix. Finale, set in London’s reconstructed Globe Theater, offers new insights into Shakespeare’s background.

The girls are better distinguished this time round, with Riley, Zawe Ashton (as head chav Bianca) and Tamsin Egerton (as dumb posh tottie Chelsea) standing out from the crowd. Pop singer/model Sarah Harding gets a grandstanding intro as hottie Roxy but doesn’t meld too smoothly with the rest of the school cast.

Varied costume designs, again by Rebecca Hale, are topnotch.

St. Trinian's: The Legend of Fritton's Gold

U.K.

Production

An Entertainment Film Distributors release of an Entertainment Film Distributors, Ealing Studios presentation of a Fragile Films producion, in association with Aegis Film Fund, Prescience. (International sales: Ealing Studios Intl., London.) Produced by Oliver Parker, Barnaby Thompson. Executive producers, Paul Brett, Rupert Everett, Nigel Green, Chris Smith, Tim Smith, James Spring. Co-producers, Mark Hubbard, Sophie Meyer. Directed by Oliver Parker, Barnaby Thompson. Screenplay, Piers Ashworth, Nick Moorcroft, inspired by the original drawings of Ronald Searle, based on the motion picture "The Belles of St. Trinian's" directed by Frank Launder, written by Launder, Sidney Gilliat, Val Valentine; additional material, Jamie Minoprio, Jonathan Stern.

Crew

Camera (Technicolor prints, widescreen), David Higgs; editor, Emma E. Hickox; music, Charlie Mole; production designer, Amanda McArthur; set decorator, Sara Wan; costume designer, Rebecca Hale; sound (Dolby Digital), Mark Holding; second unit camera, Nic Lawson; special effects supervisor, Mark Holt; visual effects supervisor, Simon Frame; visual effects, Men-From-Mars; assistant director, Melanie Dicks; casting, Lucy Bevan. Reviewed at Cineworld Shaftesbury Avenue 2, London, Dec. 22, 2009. Running time: 105 MIN.

With

Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, David Tennant, Gemma Arterton, Talulah Riley, Jodie Whittaker, Juno Temple, Tamsin Egerton, Toby Jones, Sarah Harding, Zawe Ashton, Montserrat Lombard, Ella Smith, Celia Imrie, Clara Paget, Gabriella Wilde, Cloe[cq] Mackie, Holly Mackie, Christian Brassington.

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