If someone were to ask how you’d describe St Trinian’s, it’s an unusual concept. Originally begun as a newspaper cartoon in the 1940s, St Trinian’s is a fictitious boarding school where the most violent and ill-mannered girls in all of England are sent; often the teachers are cruel and the students often meet hilariously dark ends – one oft-cited cartoon has girls punctured with pitchforks or butchered in team sports.
A pitch-black parody of boarding school novels, of which there had been a dearth of, St Trinian’s would later appear in a quintet of films from the 1950s to the 1980s that would see the girls of the school go on various misdemeanour adventures, ranging from theft to extortion to arson and everything in between. Twenty seven years after the last film, the middling The Hellcats of St Trinian’s, the school was brought into the twenty-first century with Oliver Parker and Barnaby Thompson (they of 2011’s surprisingly good Johnny English Reborn)’s 2007 reboot.
This reboot / reimagining of the boarding school from hell sees headteacher Camilla Fritton (Rupert Everett) welcome his haughty niece Annabelle (Talulah Riley) into St Trinians at the behest of her apathetic father (and Fritton’s brother, also played by Everett). This comes at a bad time, however, as the school is soon facing closure and financial ruin thanks to Camilla’s overzealous spending. From then on, it’s a converging swirl of storylines that sees St Trinians ultimately battling it out on a ‘University Challenge’-style competition show helmed by national treasure Stephen Fry to help save their school, all while conducting an audacious art heist, defeating their various nemeses, and causing plenty of mayhem on their merry way.
The set pieces are fun and solid, if a little unimaginative for the first two-thirds of the film, setting up a school rivalry on the hockey pitch that returns for the finale, as well as Camilla who finds her former romance with Geoffery Thwaites (a gamely fun Colin Firth) threaten the future of the school, forcing them to plan the theft of a priceless Vermeer while masquerading as guileless competitors of said show. One notably enjoyable sequence is the introduction of idealistic and sensitive new English teacher Miss Dickinson (Lena Headey) into the insanity of the school, like a carnival haunted house ride that never seems to abate.
This third act is where the film stops being simply fun and starts paying off everything set up – the ‘dumb blondes’ on the competition panel finally realise their worth past their looks and embrace their own skill sets, sparring students resolve their differences in the face of common good, romance wins out, and a smirking bully gets a well-deserved projectile right to the face. Win-win really.
The main selling point for the 2007 remake is the cast which contains an absurdly large amount of British talent, many of whom would go on to find much larger success years after, as well as older favourites. Notable among these is Headey’s irrepressibly eager English teacher, years before she would ever wrestle for control of the Iron Throne as Cersei Lannister, Paloma Faith as a snarling goth girl, and future A-lister Gemma Arterton as head girl Kelly Jones, a badass leader and mentor to Riley’s thawing ice princess.
Even the smaller roles have plum fun – supermodel Lily Cole has a solid if unmemorable side role as a hacker geek, while The OC’s Mischa Barton appears briefly as a former student now PR guru, and even future Doctor Jodie Whitaker having a riot as the rave enthusiast receptionist Beverly. Russell Brand even gets in on the action, back when he was in his Imperial Phase, striking a cheeky tone evoking the original movies.
The 2007 film certainly wasn’t one of the year’s best by any means, but by family friendly comedy standards for the mid-Noughties, it more than held its own, particularly as an update of a semi-beloved franchise. Helmed with a superb cast having a lot of fun in their roles, a pretty solid pop soundtrack thrown in the mix, and with plenty of cheesy abandon had by all, it’s not too hard to find something to enjoy at St Trinian’s School. Just keep your hockey stick to hand, just in case…