British comedy shoots itself in the foot once more with a naff resurrection of a movie series started in the 1950s with The Belles of St. Trinian’s (1954). When the Ronald Searle cartoons about England’s famous and prestigious ‘School for Young Ladies’ were first brought to the screen, they were considered fun examples of learning life at an institution known for its playfully rebellious nature. For this update, rebelliousness gets swapped for delinquency as these girls show all the moral fibre of a prison full of serial rapists. Deceiving, thieving and generally showing no respect of authority may be ideal for film where the villain is the hero, but to suggest a schooling of stereotyping and lessons in the vices seems an irresponsible use of UK Film Council money.
St. Trinian’s doesn’t get off to the best start when uptight and wealthy father Carnaby Fritton (Rupert Everett) delivers his daughter Annabelle (Talulah Riley) to the school. Confronted by a twenty something blonde receptionist listening to her iPod and still buzzing from a hedonistic weekend, they have to wake her up so headmistress Miss Fritton (also Everett) can come to greet them. It’s immediately obvious there is going to be no attempt to make the school a place of responsibility in any way and Miss Fritton’s anarchic doctrine of free expression seems to mean the girls can behave how they want. Annabelle is introduced to the different sects such as geeks, chavs and emos, while the lessons are out of control. It’s basically a school full of troublemakers who are encouraged to do their worst — hardly an admirable trait.
It’s basically a school full of troublemakers who are encouraged to do their worst — hardly an admirable trait.
There are a few amusing moments such as a brutish hockey match against Cheltenham Ladies College, but the plot dissolves into standard children’s television fare as St. Trinian’s ward off the attempt of the new school minister Geoffrey Thwaites (Colin Firth) to close them down while also cheating to get to the final of a University Challenge-style quiz and go about stealing the Vermeer’s Girl With A Pearl Earring to cover the debts that would shut it down. Why anyone would cheer for this St. Trinian’s headed by an overly camp Everett-in-drag and full of pompous posing girls is beyond me.
Typically for a British movie famous faces such as Russell Brand, Stephen Fry, Lily Cole and Girls Aloud make cameos which do little more than play up their persona rather than challenge them in any way. Only Gemma Arterton as confident head girl Kelly comes away with any plaudits — a good thing as all eyes will be on her as the new Bond girl in the next Daniel Craig outing due later this year. St. Trinian’s, on the other hand, is not worth gazing at as the humour is ill-judged and far too obvious. Comedy and the British film industry only come together successfully on rare occasions these days, and St. Trinian’s is more evidence of a failure to tickle the funny side of cinema.