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  St. Trinian's Defenders of Anarchy
Year: 2007
Director: Oliver Parker, Barnaby Thompson
Stars: Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Talulah Riley, Gemma Arterton, Tamsin Egerton, Antonia Bernath, Paloma Faith, Juno Temple, Kathryn Drysdale, Lily Cole, Russell Brand, Holly Mackie, Chloe Mackie, Lena Headey, Fenella Woolgar, Caterina Murino, Jodie Whittaker
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 2 votes)
Review: Inspired by Ronald Searle's drawings, writer-directors Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat unleashed the schoolgirls from hell with The Belles of St. Trinian's (1954), whose success spawned four sequels. Now a revitalized Ealing Studios updates St. Trinians for the age of ASBOs, Heat magazine, Footballer's WAGS and girl gang crime. Surprisingly enough, the formula works pretty well.

Mousy Annabelle Fritton (Talulah Riley, recently in The Boat That Rocked (2009)) arrives at the grotty and anarchic St. Trinians School for Young Ladies, run by her eccentric aunt Miss Camilla Fritton (Rupert Everett in drag, making none too subtle allusions to a certain royal consort), who suspects her seedy art-dealing brother Carnaby Fritton (Everett again) has an ulterior motive. Ice-cool head girl Kelly Jones (Gemma Arterton) introduces Annabelle to the Chavs, Posh Totty, Geeks, Emos (stands for emotionally unstable), and wild First Years that make up the ranks. With torture, gunplay, kidnapping, extortion, sex and pill-popping all part of St. Trinian's daily curriculum, it isn't long before Annabelle becomes a regular prank victim, starting when the girls broadcast live feed of her in the shower on You Tube.

Annabelle proves herself in battle on the hockey field when she bests rival team captain Verity Thwaites (Lucy Punch) whose father, education minister Geoffrey Thwaites (Colin Firth) is out to clean up the foulest school in Britain, but still harbours feelings for his lost-love Camilla Fritton. Their reunion packs in a silly reference to Everett and Firth's starring roles in Another Country (1984) while Firth also parodies his famous wet shirt routine from Pride and Prejudice. When a lack of funds threatens the school with closure, the girls concoct a daring plan to steal Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring from the National Gallery, using a televised quiz show School Challenge as their cover.

Trashed by most critics, this won a surprisingly fervent fan-following among young girls who weren't even born when the original series wrapped with The Wildcats of St. Trinian's (1980). Most of the remake's flaws are those present in the Launder and Gilliat movies, although chaotic direction by Oliver Parker (better known for his Oscar Wilde adaptations with Everett: An Ideal Husband (1999) and The Importance of Being Earnest (2002)) and Barnaby Thompson, cluttered with crash zooms and flashy edits, doesn't really help the episodic narrative.

And yet, while crude, misogynistic and eager to revel in the saucy antics of dishy starlets like Tamsin Eggerton (Keeping Mum (2005)), Antonia Bernath, Amara Karan and top-billed Talulah Riley, isn't that true to the anarchic spirit of St. Trinians? Rotten role models they may be, but these girls call the shots. There is something liberating about their gleeful vulgarity, which must be what appealed to the pre-teens who made this a box-office hit even after the critics decried it. Plus Miss Fritton (note the portrait of Alistair Sim's original headmistress that hangs in her study) genuinely cares about her wayward girls, while the climax works in a pep talk from kindly yet much abused Miss Dickinson (Lena Headey). In addition to the hitherto unlikely sight of Lena Headey becoming the 21st century Joyce Grenfell, Russell Brand proves an unexpectedly worthy successor to George Cole as Flash Harry, the wheeler-dealing cockney spiv who assists the St. Trinian's girls with their extracurricular criminal activities.

Gemma Arterton (superb in the BBCs Tess of the D'Urbervilles) provides the star turn, while a plethora of Brit character actors - including Toby Jones, Fenella Woolgar, Celia Imrie, Jodie Whittaker, and others - make the most of their too-brief moments in the spotlight. Supermodel Lily Cole is also oddly convincing as computer geek Polly.

While Annabelle's blossoming under Miss Fritton's care would appear to be the main plot thread, its often shunted aside by the non-stop zaniness, although wrapped successfully when a makeover turns her into a pouting pussycat. As many gags fall flat as hit their target, with Mischa Barton's cameo as J.J. French, a former head girl-turned-PR guru (now theres a job for a St. Trinian's girl) falling under the former category as it strives for topical satire but falls short.

On the plus side an animated sequence recreates Ronald Searle's artwork and outlines the heist, which itself proves a fun bit of tomfoolery. You've got quizmaster Stephen Fry high on happy pills, the posh totties proving themselves more than a row of pretty faces, Kelly and co. sneaking through a laser-guarded art and gallery, while Firth and Everett get intimate. If you can stomach that sight, then Girls Aloud turn up in school uniform to lead the climactic sing-along, although lovers of camp might prefer Firth and Everett's end credits duet singing Love is in the Air. What's not to like?

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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