Made in Britain: St. Trinian’s 2: The Legend of Fritton’s Gold
St. Trinian’s is a bit of a British institution. Based on the illustrations of Ronald Searle, the first film, The Belles of St. Trinian’s, launched a reasonably successful franchise that plays to a lot of our traditional end of pier seaside humour (which is invariably as funny as cancer) and borders on the frankly fetishistic on more than one occasion, particularly with regards to the Sixth Form (the 18 year olds). In the original films, they were effectively being run as a brothel by Flash Harry (the incomparable George Cole), but very much weren’t the focus of the films. The actual meat, so to speak was that the headmistress Millicent Fritton (Alastair Sim) had an educational philosophy that allowed the girls to run wild, and the fourth form in particular would get up to all sorts of hijinks, outwit the dimwitted local constabulary, and they would usually end in some sort of wild mêlée. They were all, though, essentially harmless and basically good natured “family” films. In 2007, some genius had the idea that it would be a good idea to bring this obvious anachronism back for the 21st Century, cast it full (in classic Hollywood style) of “hot” women too old for the parts, focus on the 6th form and place Rupert Everett in the Sim role. Sadly, the damned misbegotten idea made money, which meant that in 2009 we were treated to the sequel: The Legend of Fritton’s Gold.
Buckle up, this one’s going to be rocky. Oh, and spoilers below.
St. Trinian’s is MPSIA (Minor Public School I’m Afraid). It’s run with some deeply strange ideas by Miss Fritton (Everett), and basically the girls run wild. Previous head girl Kelly (Gemma Arteton- makes a cameo) went on to “MI7” (don’t all laugh at once), and the school is divided by faction. We’ve got nerds, goths, emos, Posh Totty, Rude Girls etc. and they all argue and bicker and so forth. This film starts with Celia (Juno Temple) attempting to steal a ring for £20,000 from the headmistress. The other girls thwart the attempt, and instead try to extort more money from the mysterious man behind the plot. Unsuccessfully.
After the attempt fails, Miss Fritton reveals that the ring was left to her by an ancestor, and is half of the code to reveal where a treasure, helpfully valued later on by Bursar Toby Jones, worth £400,000,000, is. And this is where the film starts to nosedive. Basically, evil Sir Piers Pomfrey (David Tennant) is trying to locate it for himself, as he has the other half, and he runs a misogynist secret society that needs the loot. Enter Colin Firth as Geoffrey, a former lover (don’t you dare fucking laugh) of Miss Fritton and member of the Society. He agrees to help the girls, and so cue shenanigans. Or don’t cue shenanigans, instead skip ahead and cue mind-numbing boredom.
Eventually, the hi-fucking-larious hijinks come to an end, and the girls bust into Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, where Jones, Firth and Everett put on a frankly skin-crawling Romeo and Juliet to buy the 6th form time to rob the case. Inside the case is not the promised loot, instead there’s a secret that’s been hidden for perpetuity. This secret? Shakespeare was really a woman all the time. HAR DE FUCKING HAR. Film ends with an impromptu concert and a defeated Sir Piers.
The cast try really hard with the material. Talulah Riley does her best as new head girl Kelly, as does Sarah Harding, Tamsin Egerton, Ella Smith, Montserrat Lombard and Zawa Ashton as their archetypes respectively. Ashton, actually, I feel really sorry for, because she’s got the intensely embarrassing and horribly laboured “Rude Girl” stereotype to play down to, so we’re treated to such comic stylings as her dressed as a boy teaching a choir to rap (seriously, and if you think that’s in the remotest bit funny, then go and sit in the fucking corner and don’t fucking come out until I fucking tell you to). Everett isn’t fit to wear Sim’s bra, and his conniving Miss Fritton lacks the charm and warmth of the older version. Thankfully, Russel “Twat” Brand doesn’t make an appearance, although the Flash Harry character is sorely absent. Quite what the fuck Firth, Jones, Celia Imrie and Gemma Arteton think they’re fucking playing at when they’re on screen is a mystery to me, and Firth’s making puppy dog eyes at Everett is toe-curlingly embarrassing.
This is the problem, though, the film just isn’t funny. Not once, and it’s an epic failure at script level. The only time my frown threatened to vanish from my face was Gabriella Wilde’s line about the wedding (“Is there a Hen do?” “No, Church of England”) which says it all really. What it feels like, and the direction aggravates this, is a lot of trendy ideas thrown at the screen as individual scenes and only vaguely linked together via a hackneyed and annoying “Girl Power” Theme. Seriously, the fucking Spice Girls were over in the 90’s, so why on Earth did the writers (Piers Ashworth and Nick Moorcroft) think it was a good idea to try to rehabilitate it? The Shakespeare was a chick thing is, in particular, awful, and the cast at least have the decency to look embarrassed while they’re going through the motions.
By “trendy ideas”, what I actually mean is that there are a huge amount of individual moments that seem to be lifted out of current affairs. The individual best sequence of the film is the split screen of the 6th form getting off the train (and this is sexualised, and I don’t care what anyone says otherwise) before the film segues into an impromptu flash mob at Liverpool Street Station. It’s clever, effectively done, and looks great. Unfortunately, there’s just one problem: it’s contrived, unnecessary and already dated and it’s only three years after the film was released.There are countless examples of this lacing the movie.
There are also further problems. Firstly, the direction. Oliver Parker (Directed Everett’s excellent Ideal Husband back in 1999), and Barnaby Thompson (directed fuck all outside of St. Trinian’s, although that is a fitting name) seemingly go out of their way to make it as episodic as possible. So, the girls discover that they’ve got to go to nearby boys school- which means that we get a map reminiscent of Raider’s of the Lost Ark charting their progress. This is an epic fail, as it instantly removes us from the film, and short of holding up a title card, I can’t think what more you could possibly do to scream out CHANGE OF SCENE. The scenes in the globe are shot as to remind me of the end of Shakespeare in Love, but the only word that I can use to describe them is “lame”. Or possibly “Shameful”, particularly when Toby Jones hops on stage and starts improvising the Bard. (Which reminds me, if anyone thinks “The Bard was a bird” line is funny, then, and I’m not kidding here, go back to the fucking corner. NOW.)
The underlying problem, though, is that St. Trinian’s does not belong in the 21st Century. What were charming hijinks and other such shenanigans in the 50’s now feel hackneyed, laboured and occasionally embarrassing. The other point worth noting, is that it also feels somewhat fetishistic, and more than a little exploitative. Seriously, these women are between the ages of 18-24, so well over the age of consent, but the deliberately lascivious school uniforms, complete with stockings etc, make the whole thing seem a touch seedy. The end of pier “charm” of the originals has vanished and been replaced by something a touch sordid, and something that I’m not sure it was a good idea to do.
We really are not very good at comedy nowadays, and if I’m honest, aside from a few bright sparks (mostly from Ealing), I’m not sure that we’ve ever been really that good at it. We’re also not good at family films. The famous “British” humour seems to roughly translate on screen to slapstick and man in drag garbage, and I genuinely don’t find it amusing at all. We are good at satire, and mean-spirited comedy, but I don’t think that in the 21st Century we’ve really got the temperament to pull off the gentle and well-natured antics of the St. Trinian’s films. Much like Australians should stay away from Horror, and Yanks away from Kitchen Sink, I think that perhaps we should be best off leaving the gentle comedy to other nations.
This is a titanic failure of a film. Watching it makes me feel vaguely dirty, in between making me feel deeply bored and mildly embarrassed. I appreciate that I’m not in the correct age range that the film is aimed at, and I’m also not the right gender, but when I think back to the St. Trinian’s films that I watched as a child, it makes me sad that they were turned into this bastard travesty. Sidelining the Fourth Form in favour of cliques is a massive mistake, as these girls were the “naughty” ones, the riotous and anarchic heart of the film. Instead, listening to “Rude Girls ” bicker in mock patois with “Posh Totty” made my soul die a little bit.
Maybe I’m looking back at this with the rose-coloured glasses of nostalgia on. Maybe I’m simply not the right person to be watching it. I don’t know, however, I’d bet money on both of those two questions being correct. What I will also bet money on, though, is that this is basically a shit film, one that lacks the heart of the originals, and one without anything that could remotely be considered funny. A fundamental mistake, I think, is to have the adult cast members so heavily involved with the girls antics, they should be standing aside and utterly unable to control the unruly mob. A further mistake, if I’m honest, was bringing it back from the dead in the first fucking place.
Overall, I don’t recommend this. I’m not sure if I would recommend its predecessor, but it surely can’t be any worse. The modern St. Trinian’s experiment, sadly, has made a bucket load of money in the UK, proving that we do still have an appetite for these films, so the next one “Versus the World” comes out in 2013. I have to say, that St. Trinian’s 2: The Legend of Fritton’s Gold, is a fucking trite and rotten time, and all I suggest is that if you really do feel a need to watch one of these, then dig out the 1954 Belles of St. Trinian’s, which destroys the modern effort on every single level, and you won’t feel like a pervert watching it. Fuck this, it barely even qualifies as a film, instead being more a badly assembled series of individual scenes- Orangutan of Doom.
Hopefully whatever I watch next won’t molest my childhood as badly.