Dominic Cooper is the straight boy you've always fantasized about. All apologies to the lesbians, but it's true. In The History Boys he plays the calculating, darkly handsome 18-year-old Dakin, gunning for acceptance to "Oxbridge." His lone gay classmate adores him, his straight buddies want to be him, and one of his two closeted male teachers prefers him out of the whole lot to drive home from school and cop a fool. In the aftermath of Foleygate, the setup of The History Boys--the film adaptation of the Tony-winning Broadway hit--is eerily familiar.
It makes you wonder: Is this the kind of sexy, charismatic teenager who brought down the former Florida congressman? "Amongst those pages there were some whom he was preying upon who were vulnerable, and there were some who were wrapping him around their little fingers," the film's director, Nicholas Hytner, concedes in his proper British accent. "I'm sure that there were both kinds."
And the similarities between the world of The History Boys and Capitol Hill don't end there. In playwright Alan Bennett's finely wrought script about education, the meaning of history, and the limits of sexuality, the headmaster of the school, like a certain lame-duck U.S. House speaker, looks the other way for years while the teacher (Hector, played by Richard Griffiths) makes a habit of casually groping the boys. And when those transgressions are finally made public, rather than deal with it, the administrator obfuscates. "What is really similar is the headmaster chooses to cover it up: Instead of just firing him, he tries to manipulate him into resigning--that is exactly like Hastert," Hytner says, referring to our pal Denny, who apparently knew about Foley's exploits for some time but chose not to do anything about them. "The discovery of the crime is worse than the crime. You can go on fiddling with the page boys as long as nobody knows about it."
But as in a slew of new cultural offerings, The History Boys--nominally about a group of talented students in the north of England who stay an extra term at school in order to improve their chances of admission to Oxford or Cambridge--shows that teenagers aren't the innocent victims they're often made out to be. In a culture where the burgeoning sexuality of youth is generally unacknowledged (abstinence-only sex education, anyone?), perhaps the most remarkable thing about the movie is that the boys just don't care that Hector feels them up. In fact, they're completely aware of why he does it (he's a pitiful closet case, a "sick fuck" in the words of one) and why they let him (because he's a brilliant, inspiring teacher in every other way). It all demonstrates a sophistication about sex that flies in the face of political correctness. What's more, The History Boys is one of a handful of indie films out now and in the coming months involving students seducing their teachers. Loving Annabelle and Whole New Thing, plus another upcoming British import, Notes on a Scandal (starring Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett), all feature amorous relationships instigated by young people who are usually considered the victims. Even onstage in singer-songwriter Duncan Sheik's new Broadway musical, Spring Awakening, which is based on a fin-de-siecle play about sexual coming of age, the kids are fully in command of their sexuality.
Cooper's character of Dakin exemplifies that swaggering maturity. He not only serves as a model for the other students on how to handle Hector's advances with aplomb but also seduces a much younger male teacher, Irwin (played by Stephen Campbell Moore), because he can find no other way to get to him. "Obviously he's very aware of who likes him, who fancies him, who finds him sexually attractive, and he uses that completely to his advantage," Cooper tells me one November afternoon in the bar of the Regency Hotel on New York City's upper east side. The 27-year-old is even sexier in person than on-camera, with brooding eyes and the kind of thick black hair you want to run your fingers through. …