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    St. Trinian's

    St.'s alive!

    The British resuscitate their treasured "St. Trinian's" girls-school comedies from the '50s but struggle to be naughty enough for the '00s.


    At the turn of the last century — 1902 to be exact — the British site now known as Ealing Studios came into being, making it the oldest movie studio still in existence. During the '40s and '50s, under the supervision of the extraordinary producer Sir Michael Balcon (credited with launching the early career of Alfred Hitchcock), Ealing turned out such gritty kitchen-sink dramas as the recently rediscovered "It Always Rains on Sunday," historical adaptations like the original "Nicholas Nickleby" and a slew of much beloved comedies that became synonymous with the Ealing name.

    Directed by: Oliver Parker, Barnaby Thompson.
    Written by: Piers Ashworth, Nick Moorcroft.
    Cast: Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Russell Brand, Talulah Riley, Lily Cole, Stephen Fry.
    Cinematography: Gavin Finney.
    Edited by: Alex Mackie.

    Related links: Official site
    "Tight Little Island," "Kind Hearts and Coronets," "The Man in the White Suit," "The Lavender Hill Mob" and "The Ladykillers" introduced the likes of Alec Guiness and Joan Greenwood to International audiences. Then in 1955, the studio was sold to the BBC which developed a few made-for-telly films there, including the original "The Singing Detective" and some television series, most notably the original "Dr. Who." In 2000, Ealing was sold again and returned to big-screen film productions, such as the 2002 remake of "The Importance of Being Earnest" featuring Rupert Everett and Colin Firth as the "banburying" cousins.

    In 2007, Everett and Firth again co-starred for the revamped Ealing Studios in "St. Trinian's," a quasi-revival of the films based on Ronald Searle's marvelously skeevy cartoon depictions of British school girls gone wild. There were five films (none filmed at Ealing) beginning with "The Belles of St. Trinian's" in 1954. St. Trinian's is a British all-girl's school run amok under prim headmistress Miss Fritton, originally played by Alastair Sim ("A Christmas Carol," 1951) in drag. Sim also played Miss Fritton's twin brother Clarence, not in drag. Both Frittons and Mr. Sim disappeared after the first two St. Trinian films.

    St. Trinian's  
    But the series continued with the paradigm firmly in place: the school needs money or it will be shut down. With the aid of a local thug-cum-bookie named Flash Harry, the girls lie, cheat and/or gamble their way into enough cash to save the day. And that simple plot made the first two films both famous and classic. The third and fourth St. Trinian's films (in 1960 and 1966) were already paler shadows of the original duo and a 1980 revival was simply "too late," according to the British Time Out Film Guide, which said, "The repressed anarchic energy of the '50s originals has just dribbled away."

      In our permissive society, the original '50s girls of St. Trinian's seem more like "Little Women" than the she-demons necessary to shock audiences today.
    Out of these dribblings, like some hackneyed phoenix, a 21st-century version of Searle's li'l devils has risen and the whole point of this mini film-history lesson is to try and figure out why such highly respected actors as Everett and Firth could possibly have agreed to appear not only in "St. Trinian's," but also the sequel, "St. Trinian's II: The Legend of Fritton's Gold," due out at Christmas of this year!

    Perhaps Mr. Everett just wanted the opportunity to play both Fritton siblings, especially Camilla in a dress and a pair of horse teeth (an obvious homage to Prince Charles' lady-wife), so he could make out with Mr. Firth — hey, I'd put on horse teeth if I could make out with Mr. Firth! But what's in it for Mr. Firth? If he simply wanted to put all those Mr. Darcy jokes to rest, wasn't there a better film out there for that purpose? Like say "Mamma Mia," in which he actually warbled an ABBA tune?

    Another problem is the girls themselves. In our permissive society, the original '50s girls of St. Trinian's seem more like "Little Women" than the she-demons necessary to shock audiences today. The 2007 school cliques range from "Emos," "Geeks" and "Goths" (here called "Chavs") to "Posh Totties" (whatever they are), but they don't really go beyond the traditional delinquent behavior expected at St. Trinian's.

    St. Trinian's  
    Among their revenue-producing activities, they run a phone-sex service — which keeps them naughty but nice, doncha' know? They also make vodka in the chem lab and cheat their way into the BBC's "School Challenge," hosted by Stephen Fry. The actresses playing the girls are okay — some sexy, some sweet, but all interchangeable, except for the remarkable Lilly Cole (she of the recent Times Styles Magazine) making her film debut as the head "Geek" girl.

    Also notable is Russell Brand in an excellent comic turn as the repugnant Flash Harry, who helps the girls steal the famed "The Girl with a Pearl Earring" (another in-joke: Firth played Vermeer in the eponymous 2003 film). But it's mostly by-the-book St. Trinian's, which no doubt means more to British audiences than to ours — hence the two-year gap in the film's American theatrical premiere. Oh well, maybe when David ("Dr. Who") Tennant guest stars in this Xmas's "STII," the Timelord can bring back more of the original '50s spirit.

    OCTOBER 15, 2009

    Reader comments on St. Trinian's:

  • [no subject]   from Ashleigh, Jun 18, 2010
  • help   from lola, Nov 5, 2010
  • erratum.   from Iain, Dec 12, 2010

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