sttrinians1.jpgWhen a tabloid journalist wants to find out the dirt about a celebrity what do they do? Well these days they probably talk to their publicist and between them they concoct a story between them which gets the sleb some column inches and the journo their pay. But back in the day of proper muck raking journalists they would either dress up as a Sheikh or – more likely – rake through the famous persons bins. Because you can learn a lot about someone by looking at its rubbish. Which is a good a way as saying that the new St Trinians film is probably the most vital and modern portrayal of the UK at the moment that has been released in the cinema for five years.

Not just because it is, to all intents and purposes, rubbish. Though it is pretty lousy. But only lousy in the cosy, comfortable way that Carry On films, Doctor films and pretty much 90% of any comedy movie ever made is lousy. The plot makes rudimentary sense, the japes are competent if not actually funny and the “girls” themselves read the script out in the right order. The fact that the films isn’t much cop is not really anything to do with anyone involved. The challenge is after all to make a St Trinians film which fulfills all the following criteria:

a) Is respectful to the previous films and drawings (in as much as respect is an issue in St Trinians lore)
b) Is in someone modern and – ahem – relevant to the peers of the characters it portrays
c) Is attractive to a current audience, one would hope of that peers group, namely teenage girls
d) Gets a certificate so that said audience could see said film (12A allows for poppers references)

So whilst I am not saying you can’t make a great film for teenage girls, I am suggesting that to do that, set it in a public school, have it fundamentally about naughtiness (itself a bygone concept) and make it respect some sort of fifty year history of such a series is next to impossible to do well. But then you don’t need to do it well. So perhaps the inclusion of the chavs and the emo’s is embarrassing, but is no less embarrassing than the headmistress being played by Rupert Everett who seems to lean more on Dick Emery than Alastair Sim. Having not one, but two, meta-Colin Firth jokes might have been clever on the page, isn’t on the screen*. The nailing the hockey ball to the stick gag comes from the first St Trinians film, and is still lame (though the hockey community are keen on the film). There is also some sort of strange sense that the film needs to have about eight plots at once (you only need one threat to the School – the taxman AND the Ministry Of Education** is over-egging the pudding a touch). But it provides the audience with a shared bonding experience, seeing something that embarrasses the kids and adults in the audience, whilst uniting them in some shared experience***. And since as any good Geezaesthete will tell you, its much harder to talk about the experience of good art than a slightly shoddy workmanlike comedy, it gives that audience plenty to talk about (like what exactly is Mischa Barton doing in it, and how long was she on set – ten seconds?)

So above all of this is all the thing which makes St Trinians this vital portrait of England (and it is England not Britain). And it is pride in being a bit rubbish, breaking the system, pride in petty crime, ingenuity and what can only be called “working it”. Many reports have suggested that the naughtiness in St Trinians is tame compared to what is going on in real schools. This is patent nonsense, there are very few schools running commercial vodka distilleries, making explosives and running premium rate sex chat lines. And whilst booze and drugs are mentioned plenty of times in the film, their consumption is only ever seen by adults. Indeed from a vocational point of view St Trinians is not only one which provides its students with core skills, but particularly core skills for the nation they are living in. Which is a country which values it booze, drugs, knock-offs and TV presenters. Peter Bradshaw said it was the worst brit-com since Spice World. He was right about the parallel, but all the things which make Spice World a great picture of late nineties Britain, is what makes St Trinians a great picture of now. Well, except one point on the soundtrack, where a very ill-advised rewrite and cover of Shampoo’s Trouble kicks in to explain the plot which was probably my most embarrassed moment in the cinema in 2007. Which is great – because I shared it with the audience. England is a country whose self character has, over the last fifty years, developed into a slight apology for its own existence, a shared embarrassment. Films like St Trinians are required to remind us why we should be apologetic. I know it wasn’t my idea to see if Lily Cole could act, but I am as culpable as anyone else in this country.

*There is a dog which shags his leg repeatedly called Darcy, but also in the extended Scarlett Johansson / Girl With The Pearl Earing mix-ups he is mentioned by name.

**Wisely not actually named in the film, when it would now be the Ministry Of Children, Schools and Families.

***Parents of said kids may remember the last time this was attempted, the Wildcats Of St Trinians, which makes this version look like genius. Who doesn’t want to see overly sexualised schoolgirls in an anti-union polemic? Er, everyone.