Old Boys (3 stars)

Old Boys

Alex Lawther stars in this sweet-natured, boarding school-set riff on Cyrano de Bergerac

The increasingly ubiquitous Alex Lawther (The End of the F***ing World, Ghost Stories) stars in this sweet-natured spin on Cyrano de Bergerac, set at an all-boys boarding school in the 1980s. He plays sensitive, awkward scholarship student Amberson, who agrees to help handsome-but-dim Winchester (Jonah Hauer-King) – described as 'a Labrador in trousers' – write love letters to Agnes (Pauline Etienne), the spirited daughter of the school's new French teacher Babinot (an underused Denis Ménochet).

Debut director Toby MacDonald paints an appealingly satirical portrait of boarding school life, especially in the depiction of its brutal river-based sport 'Streamers', which is like rugby in the water, with extra fighting. However, the film isn't interested in nostalgia, as the 80s setting barely registers and is clearly an excuse for the kids not to communicate with mobile phones or email.

Lawther makes a charming and likeable lead, while Hauer-King proves a real find, with the most moving scenes centred on the development of their friendship. In fact, there's so much chemistry between the two that it frequently feels like there's another film in Old Boys struggling to get out, or rather, come out. That feeling is underlined by the fact that the romance angle never really convinces (on any side of the triangle), with the film ultimately opting for a message about being true to yourself, rather than sticking strictly to the Cyrano script.

Fortunately, there are a number of other elements that prop up the slightly underwhelming plot. Chief amongst these is the film's visual imagination, particularly in the inventive, artistic items that Agnes and Amberson (in the guise of Winchester) send each other – several of which wouldn't be out of place in a Michel Gondry film. In addition, there are accomplished supporting turns from both Ménochet and Joshua McGuire, who layers in a touching undercurrent to his ostensible comic relief, as the school's over-enthusiastic Streamers coach Huggins.

Selected release from Fri 22 Feb.

Old Boys

  • 3 stars
  • 2018
  • UK / Sweden
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Toby MacDonald
  • Cast: Alex Lawther, Jonah Hauer-King, Pauline Etienne

In an 80s boarding school spin on Cyrano, Amberson (Lawther) agrees to help handsome but dim Winchester (Hauer-King) to write love letters to Agnes (Etienne). Lawther is charming and likeable, and Hauer-King is a real find; good supporting turns and some visual imagination prop up the slightly underwhelming plot.