Friday, September 14, 2007

The Guinea Pig

I taped and watched The Guinea Pig, part of Channel 4's answer to the disappointing last week of the BBC season.

Contrary to my fears, there was nothing ridiculous about the adult Richard Attenborough playing a schoolboy. In the event he was one of the slighter pupils. His classmates were so mature they looked as though they could step in to run a merchant bank or play wing forward for England at a moment's notice. Clearly, all that rugby puts hairs on your chest.

The story, which involved a working-class boy being sent to a public school just before the end of the Second World War, began promisingly, as the class conflict involved in the bullying he suffers is made plain.

However, it soon settled down into a conventional school story: new boy fails to fit in at first, but later proves his worth and his accepted by his fellows. The moral, such as it was, was that one must move with the times, but not too far. A few scholarship boys at the school would be a good thing, but not too many.

It is clear that Britain was already retreating from the more questioning wartime treatment of class relations that you can find in a film such as Millions Like Us. If ever there was a time when the hegemony of the public schools could have been broken it was surely 1945 and the years immediately after. But Labour never took them on and eventually turned their fire on the grammar schools instead.

One point of interest is that this was the first British film in which the word "arse" was spoken. But before you laugh at us stuffy Brits, remember that the Americans were worse.

Talking of arses, Attenborough was caned a couple of times - which must have pleased some film critics - but it was pretty tame stuff. Don't these people know what we expect from a film about a public school?

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