The Spirit of St. Trinian's
To be blunt when I heard that they were making a new "St. Trinian's" movie I honestly thought what was the point as not only was the style of humour something from a bygone era but when they tried it back in 1980 with "The Wildcats of St. Trinian's" they made a complete hash of it. It turns out that the new "St. Trinian's" isn't as bad as I thought it was going to be and whilst nowhere near as good as the original "The Belles of St. Trinian's" is still an admirable effort. In many ways the team behind "St. Trinian's" have done a good job as they have managed to create the spirit of the original movies with the naughty, confident school girls and a clever tie in with a new Miss Fritton in charge as well as devising a storyline which feels like it has drawn on the original stories. It does go on too long and suffers from a stodgy middle section but I'm impressed.
Times may have changed but the girls of St. Trinian's are still a bunch of tearaways who get up to pretty much whatever they like sometimes with the assistance of headmistress Camilla Fritton (Rupert Everett - Stardust). But some things never change as not only are the school's finances in dire straits but the new Minister for Education Geoffrey Thwaites (Colin Firth - Then She Found Me) plans to take St. Trinian's to task and make an example of them even if he did once date Miss Fritton. But with the girls realising that if the school closes their easy life will disappear come up with a cunning plan to use a schools televised competition as cover to steal a famous work of art from a gallery and then get Flash (Russell Brand) to sell it on so that they can clear the school's debts.
As already pointed out the storyline to "St. Trinian's" feels like it's drawn on elements from the original with the school in financial trouble and a new Minister of Education determined to bring the infamous school to justice. Other elements such as a rivalry with a nearby posh school, a TV competition and picture theft also feel like they have been cobbled together from watching the original movies with the only new element being a previous romance between headmistress Camillia Fritton and new Minister for Education Geoffrey Thwaites to add some amusement. But it is slim as was the case in the originals but rather strangely in a movie which is only 100 minutes it does feel like it's having to draw it out to make it last. It certainly feels the case when we get a montage of new girl Anabelle Fritton getting a St. Trinian's style makeover.
But whilst drawn out it works as whilst for the first part it is all about the troublesome tearaways who do what they like behind school walls and the Minister for Education deciding to make an example of the school it builds to the second half which is all about the girls stealing a painting to raise the funds to keep the school open. It is very much the sort of storyline which would have felt right in the original and that is one of "St. Trinian's" strengths because it has the spirit of the original but brought up to date. So whilst we had flirtatious teenagers in the originals now we have flirtatious Sixth Formers who run a sex line. There is also the various cliques from Chavs to Emos plus of course various familiar characters such as Flash. Plus in homage to Alastair Sim and the original we have Rupert Everett playing both Camilla Fritton and her brother Carnaby. It simply works to recreate everything which was good about the originals yet making it modern as well.
The other strength of "St. Trinian's" is that they got the casting right with Rupert Everett being brilliant as Camilla Fritton, embracing playing a woman in the same way Alistair Sim did. Everett is not the only good piece of casting as Colin Firth is just as perfect as Minister of Education Geoffrey Thwaites and whilst Russell Brand brings something very different he is good as Flash. But it is also the various actors who play the girls which make it work especially Gemma Arterton who has an almost dominatrix style strut and confidence which makes her powerful. And Arterton is not alone as Kathryn Drysdale and Talulah Riley bring their characters to life with such assurance. It's because everyone be it a major star or just a face in the crowd delivers confidence that you find all the antics entertaining rather than awkward.
What this all boils down to is that "St. Trinian's" is a pleasant surprise as I didn't think it would be possible to recreate that spirit which made the original movies entertaining but somehow they have and at the same time brought it up to date without ruining that feeling. It does feel a little drawn out but it is made up for by some confident performances which makes you want to watch rather than feel uneasy. It is by no means as good as the original but a huge improvement on the last time they tried to do a "St. Trinian's" sequel.