The History Boys
: masculinity, memory and the 1980s in British cinema, 2005 – 2010

  • Andy Pope

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This study will consider the function of cinema in British society’s ongoing relationship with the 1980s. Its focus on a key period of recent British film history acknowledges popular culture’s flourishing identification with this decade, reflected through a number of media including literature, music and fashion. I argue that with seventeen films set in the 1980s and produced between 2005 and 2010, British cinema is at the centre of this retrospective, providing a unique perspective on our relationship with the era. But what are the determinants of this mediated reminiscence and what does it say about the function of cinema in rendering the past? I contend that a key aspect of this channelling of popular and personal memory is the role of the writer and director. Nearly all male and mostly middle-aged, the films’ creative agents present narratives that foreground young male protagonists and specifically masculine themes. These thematic concerns, including patriarchal absence and homosocial groups, whilst anchored in the concerns of their 1980s socio-political landscape also highlight a contemporary need for the films’ authors to connect to a personal past.

Through reference to sociological, cinematic and political discourse, amongst others, this study will also consider the role of memory in these films. It will contend that the films present a complex perspective of the 1980s, highlighting an ambivalent relationship with the period that transcends nostalgia. The thematic structure of this work will allow a full analysis of the films’ relationship with key aspects of the 1980s incorporating a consideration of critically neglected texts that, I argue, demonstrate a strong mediated relationship with the 1980s. Additionally the study’s unique perspective on a specific period of the recent past and its mediation through film will ensure it has a key contribution to current thinking around the relationship between contemporary masculinity, British cinema and the 1980s.
Date of AwardMay 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorJustin Smith (Supervisor) & Christine Etherington Wright (Supervisor)

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