I wanted many things from the latest St Trinian’s adaptation – black humour, a visual hats-off to Ronald Searle, a vague resemblance to Timothy Shy’s book, knuckledusters – but mostly, given its abysmal 5.6 rating on IMDB, I wanted it not to suck. For this reason, it’s a film I’ve had to gear myself to see, bracing against every possible atrocity modern cinema could unleash on such an absurdly wonderful premise. Like a mantra of hope, I found myself muttering the names of Stephen Fry, Colin Firth and Rupert Everett, clinging to my conviction that, surely, no film featuring all three could fail utterly.
And you know what? I was right.
From the opening credits, St Trinian’s slams the audience into the world of Searle’s belovedly crazy schoolgirls and runs with riotous insanity through ten-year old twins with dynamite and a vodka distillery, Rupert Everett as an alcoholic headmistress hitting on Colin Firth, an art heist, Stephen Fry on drugs and hockey sticks akimbo. At times, it’s hysterical. The modern elements – such as emos, geeks, randy royals and YouTube pranks – all blend seamlessly with the original stock of violence, explosives, skulduggery and drunk teachers; so much so, in fact, that anyone not familiar with Searle’s comics could be forgiven for wondering just how many liberties had been taken.
In fact, the biggest weakness is character development. In order to keep the pace cracking, much has been sacrificed in the way of individual nuance, so that many girls are little more than names or distinctive faces. It’s hard to say whether this fact is worsened or ameliorated by the archetypes in play: the audience can still readily tell Chivas from Posh Totty, but the girls belonging to each group are deliberately bounded by these definitions, so that even though nothing is lost in translation, neither is anything gained. Still, it’s a flaw that sits well with the original material, given that Searle’s comics featured no recurring characters, and anyone familiar with Shy’s novella can spot La Umbrage in Everett’s persona, the sly minx in Kelly.
All in all, St Trinian’s is a rare and hilarious remake, one that sticks entirely to the spirit of the original without sacrificing modernity. Throw in an awesome soundtrack, and you’ve got a recipe for success. IMDB hath spoken wrongly: rent it and see for yourself!