If it takes three attempts to plough through a movie, it’s probably not worth recommending. So it’s a rare thing that St Trinian’s manages to scoot by, though it does so more on account of depressingly low expectations. It at least follows a logical, if far-fetched, plot and satisfies its target audience of teenage girls, which is better achievement than many films with loftier expectations. Surely that merits a passing grade.
Not that any of the ladies of St. Trinian’s has ever seen one of those. Declared the worst school in Britain by Education Minister Geoffrey Thwaites (Colin Firth), it’s slated to be shut down, but only after he’s humiliated and made an example out of it on national television. And that’s not the only thing that’s keeping Headmistress Camilla Fritton (Rupert Everett) up at night. Its finances are a mess, and the school owes half a million pounds.
The young women are not about to take any of this lying down, or standing up or slumped in their chairs. That’s because St Trinian’s isn’t just any school but a hotbed of anarchy. There is learning to be sure but none of it academic. Instead, the students are skilled in the arts of booby trapping, bootlegging, and vodka brewing, among others. This comes as a shock to new girl Annabelle Fritton (Talulah Riley), the headmistress’s niece. Her cleancut ways put her at odds with everyone, and they make their dislike known with a hazing on her first night.
The responsible teacher in me is appalled by the cruelty and intellectual disinterest of both students and teachers there. I’m also uncomfortable with the ease at which the older form girls parade their vampy sexuality around the first years. It’s like watching a perverse anime come to life, or a comic book – the movie is based on drawings and stories published in the 1950s. But I suspect much of the appeal is the fact that St Trinian’s is an outsider’s haven. The girls segregate into familiar cliques, but faced with the prospect of going to “normal” schools, they quickly scheme together.
The plan is to enter and then cheat their way through the TV quiz show, School Challenge, in order to land a spot in the finals filmed at the National Art Gallery. That way, they can steal a valuable painting, flog off a forgery to a wealthy and clueless buyer, and then return the real one for reward money. It’s an outlandish idea, criminal and devoid of any moral good, but it’s also a classic heist that’s tightly plotted and makes sense in the scheme of things. A certain portion of the audience will think the whole affair highly clever, and these same people will thrill at the way the ladies outwit and rebel against the system. But the movie is really no more than a teenage caper, albeit one with high(er) production values and a dizzying carousel of slumming thespians. It offers relentless and daring secondary school hijinks but never any real subversion.
“St Trinian’s Theme” by Girls Aloud:
Prod: Oliver Parker, Barnaby Thompson
Dir: Oliver Parker, Barnaby Thompson
Writer: Piers Ashworth, Nick Moorcroft
Cast: Rupert Everett, Gemma Arterton, Colin Firth, Talulah Riley, Russell Brand, Lena Headey, Tasmin Egerton, Antonia Bernath, Amara Karan, Paloma Faith, Juno Temple, Kathryn Drysdale, Lily Cole, Holly Mackie, Cloe Mackie, Jodie Whittaker, Fenella Woolgar, Toby Jones, Celia Imrie, Stephen Fry, Anna Chancellor, Lucy Punch, Mischa Barton
Time: 97 min
Country: United Kingdom