Saturday, October 6, 2012

Movie – St. Trinian’s (2007)

When I first watched this film I didn’t realize what a British institution the St. Trinian’s stories were.  As an American I had never heard of them.  I found out afterwards that a set of cartoons of the misbehaving St. Trinian’s girls were widely circulated in the 1940s.  These were followed by a series of popular movies in the 1950s and 1960s, and even a revival in 1980.  Finding this out helped explain to me how this little comedy, starring at the time relatively unknown actresses, could attract such a notable cast of adults in supporting roles.

Chief among these adults is Colin Firth as Minister Geoffrey Thwaites, a politician hell bent on closing down St. Trinian’s School for Girls because of the improper behavior of its students.  The school is run by Camilla Fritton (Rupert Everett – My Best Friend’s Wedding), but she is having some financial issues.  Her twin brother Carnaby Fritton (Everett again) has the money to help, but can’t be bothered.  He dumps his daughter Annabelle (Talulah Riley – Pride & Prejudice 2005) at the school as way to make it look like he supports his sister.

The teachers at the school include Lena Headey (300), Toby Jones (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Caterina Murino (Casino Royale), and Jodie Whitaker (Venus) as an administrator.  Anna Chancellor (Pride and Prejudice 1995) runs the rival school to St. Trinian’s and Stephen Fry (V for Vendetta, A Bit of Fry and Laurie) plays the host of a school quiz show.  Finally, Russell Brand shows up as Flash Harry, a criminal who buys bootleg alcohol from a couple of First Year twin girls.

Among the students are actresses Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace) as Head Girl Kelly, who has a thing going on with Flash Harry; Juno Temple (The Dark Knight Rises); Lily Cole (The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus); and three “posh totties”, one of whom is played by Tamsin Egerton (Camelot).  Mischa Barton also shows up in a cameo as a former student.

So Carnaby Fritton dumps his daughter Annabelle at this school.  She is horrified and terrorized by the girls that are there.  Think the worst of the worst and then double it.  She doesn’t fit in and wants her father to take her back.  He can’t be bothered.  The other girls finally bond with her, though.  She then learns that the school is in danger of being shut down.  The girls hatch a plan to get the money they need to save their school.  The movie now becomes a heist film, where it is teenage girls that are figuring out how to blast their way through security doors, tunnel up into a museum, and steal the Vermeer painting Girl with a Pearl Earring.  They then have to fence the painting; who better to sell it to and get in trouble than Carnaby Fritton, the very man who could have helped his sister save the school in the first place, but chose not to?

The little twins handle the explosives and initial penetration.  Kelly and a couple other girls handle the Mission Impossible-like traverse of a wire over a crowd to the hall where the painting is kept.  To do this they need a distraction and the Posh Totties provide this by cheating their way to the finals of a school quiz show, which will be held in that same museum.  Annabelle is simultaneously providing them with the answers, and trying to keep things from going wrong with the heist.

Rupert Everett playing Miss Camilla Fritton is the reason this film is in this category.  Apparently this is a tradition with that role.  In the original 1954 movie The Belles of St. Trinian’s none other than Alistair Sim (yes, Ebenezer Scrooge himself) played that role.  At one point Everett is playing Miss Fritton, who is dressed as Queen Victoria for a school production.  Colin Firth joked that Queen Victoria was a role Everett was born to play.

Speaking of Colin Firth, with him in the film you can bet there were a number of references to that other British institution Pride and Prejudice.  I already mentioned some of the casting above.  In addition, Miss Fritton’s dog is named Mr. Darcy; Firth’s character falls in some water and is shown walking in a wet, white shirt just like in his version of Pride and Prejudice; P&P comes up as a question during the school quiz show; etc.  And the Girl with a Pearl Earring painting is of course the one from the film of the same name that starred Firth.  I’m sure there are a ton of other references to British pop culture that I didn’t pick up on.

That brings up the question: can Americans appreciate this film?  The answer is mixed.  I see a bunch of comments on IMDB that essentially boil down to “Huh?”  I am far from being an expert on all things British, but I did know enough to get a number of the jokes.  As I already mentioned, though, there was this whole backstory on St. Trinian’s that I knew nothing about, yet I still laughed at the movie.

And as an American I got a big kick out of the skewering of one of the stereotypes we Americans have of upper class Brits – that they are oh so proper and refined.  Seeing all these girls bootlegging, hacking computers, blowing things up, etc. just made me laugh.  Sure, their behavior would be very wrong in real life, but it’s not real life; it’s a movie.  (Think Animal House.)  And I got the biggest kick out of the two little twins who even the other girls referred to as “mini Sopranos”.

There was a sequel made with pretty much the entire cast returning, including Firth, but it has never been released to DVD in the U.S, so I have not seen it.  If you watch St. Trinian’s on DVD, take the time to watch the deleted scenes.  There’s a very funny one with the twins driving the school bus where one is up in the seat moving the steering wheel and the other is working the pedals and shifting gears.

This film is not for everyone.  If the sight of kids behaving badly would bother you then you should definitely avoid this movie.  If you hate all British humor then avoiding this movie is probably also a good idea.  For everyone else, I recommend you give this film a try.

Chip’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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  1. Wow... never heard of this film, but it sounds like something I would love to pop in on a Saturday night and turn my brain off for a bit. Anything Colin Firth is pretty much gold in my book, no matter how crappy. Thanks for the writeup!

    1. You're welcome. A "shut your brain off and enjoy it" kind of movie is a very good description for this film. Thanks.