Friday 23rd June saw a unique evening, even by Shrewsbury standards. The Ashton Theatre, on a balmy summer’s evening, when unusually the sun decided to come out, was the scene for over 200 people to sip champagne, nibble on popcorn and slurp ice-cream whilst trying not to spill it on their dinner jackets or ball gowns. Yes, Cannes had come to Kingsland with all the glamour that that entails. There was a red carpet, down which the stars of the School House film, Evolution, paraded, in front of their parents and adoring fans. Such was the attraction of the event, a busload of girls from Malvern St. James had insisted on coming as there was a chance to see the stars of the film such as Peter Stanley, Ralph Assheton, Sam Watts, Harry Al-Adwani and Mr Vicars.
A quick introduction to the film from Mr Bell in which he talked of team work and the powerful influence of Mr Brian Parsons, the School’s new Head of Drama, and the credits roll. The evening started with an entertaining advert for a new deodorant called Wynx which involves Third Former Ralph Assheton’ s dreams come true as he douses himself in deodorant and a number of Sixth Form girls find it strangely attractive. I have been actively seeking this product since viewing this advert but have found it so far to be strangely elusive! Then followed a future presentation trailer for The Invigilators. I can’t wait to see this film – an exciting preview depicts an anarchic exam hall invigilated by a teacher who just doesn’t care. The situation requires a team of crack invigilators who arrive in an A Team style bus and restore order with ruthless efficiency. This looks like a film we must all see. Laura Whittle, Matt Barratt and Giles Bell all play tough, no-nonsense invigilators and it is quite clear they have been trained to the ultimate level. Ladi Okusanya enjoys flexing his guns and sources inside the industry suggest his character steals the limelight. Watch out also for Jack Burberry-Casey in a cage. This film promises to be one of the year’s great hits and I found myself wondering if the main feature presentation would be able to live up to the high standards of The Invigilators trailer.
There was no need to worry. School House Evolution is a roller coaster of a ride. A tense beginning featuring National Youth Theatre star Harry Al-Adwani talking to a camera underneath the bed, awaiting imminent death, has the audience on the edge of their seats. Having decided to stay, the title credits roll against a backdrop of Shrewsbury School on a beautiful sunny day, accompanied by music specially written for the film by School House Fourth Former, Julian Chesshire. The film then moves to a documentary style interview with Senior Housemaster Giles Bell.
Set in 2021, Shrewsbury School has become the most academic school in the whole world and School House is regarded as the leading boarding house. Mr Bell is happy to show us round the institution although his bodyguards keep the documentary team at arm’s length. We witness a boy who is only comparing two poems and has recently eaten a pizza, which is actually quite a shocking revelation and certainly came as a surprise to me. There is then an interesting sequence depicting some bright boys developing computer games, the proceeds of which are ploughed back into the academic infrastructure. There is however a slightly sinister side and we begin to wonder whether Mr Bell might not be all sweetness and light, as it appears he has a 97% stake in Big Mike Productions. The most harrowing scene of the film follows, in which a feral boy (played by Jack Calvert) is to be found being fed on scraps of bread and living in the Trunk Room. Mr Bell seems oblivious to the suffering of the individual, claiming you can’t work with everyone. This is certainly the darkest moment of the film, as witness to what happens to those who cannot live within the system.
Just when you think things can’t get any worse, there is a frightening shot of a zombie invasion followed by Mr Tonks discussing the situation with the Headmaster who is away at the HMC. Mr Tonks needs help and turns to the most efficient and organised response unit he can think of – School House. There then follows an inspirational speech from Mr Bell, which does go on a little, followed by scenes of death and glory as various members of the school community confront the zombies. Among the highlights are Mr Vicars impressively and effectively clearing the grass of zombies, Miss Whittle gunning down a group that are preventing her from concentrating on her marking (a scene more lifelike than people might realise) and Mr Balcombe being savagely attacked by a zombie called Arman.
The film picks up pace at this point and the sense that the zombies are getting on top is epitomised by the destruction of the Chaplain, who is on the receiving end of an RPG and is engulfed in hellfire. The symbolism at this point of the film is such that I can imagine many philosophy groups discussing it for years to come. The Army section, inspired by Henry Young's death or glory speech, rush out in a dramatic scene that I found more moving than Private Ryan. The scene is brilliantly edited by up-and-coming editor Josh Wong, as we cut to a different part of the garden to find Senior Housemaster's wife Emily Bell serving up Dutch courage to countrysportsmen Jack Calvert and Harry Bromley-Davenport. Watch out for Zombie Corbo's dramatic death scene (one of many) as he is brilliantly picked off by sharp-shooter Harry, inspired by Mrs Bell's words of encouragement. In one of the more graphic scenes of the film, surely inspired by Tarantino, it becomes clear that the Army boys have run out of bullets and they become a feast for the zombies. Indeed, few seem able to withstand the zombie onslaught, but caretaker Steve Waring is one of the few members of staff able to repel them, but then he does go to special lengths that few others could ever hope to emulate.
At the darkest hour, a hero emerges in the form of Brian Parsons. Brian’s two-hour oration, which can be viewed in its entirety in the Director’s Cut version, is here reduced to a mere twenty minutes, but the effect is powerful and there was hardly a dry eye in the House as I looked around at my fellow movie goers. In an emotional and epic speech, Brian gets to the heart of what it means to be a School House boy, ultimately urging those around him to fight to protect Horace’s gorilla. It is cinematic dynamite and Brian Parsons must be in with a chance of his first Oscar since his appearance in a pop video fifteen years ago.
Despite the motivational strength of the speech, the power of the zombies is overwhelming. Mr Bell valiantly battles to save his House but you sense he has reached the end of his tether, and as Harry Al-Adwani and Peter Stanley watch from a top floor window, he appears to be mortally wounded. Will the spirit of School House die with him? One senses not, and one is right. In a moment of cinematic genius Mr Bell regenerates into a younger, better looking, more energetic and rather superior version of himself. In homage to Dr Who, the Housemaster of School House lives on in the form of Hugo Besterman who readily accepts the challenge as the House appears to be disintegrating around him. Mr Besterman walks down the avenue with two survivors, yet there is an aura of hope. One senses that despite the destruction and chaos around him he will be able to re-build School House and undo the damage done!
This is a film for all the family, even your dogs, your cats and your gerbils. If you would like a copy, and I strongly recommend you buy one if you know what’s good for you, they can be purchased for £10 from Mr Bell in School House (email firstname.lastname@example.org) Any money raised will be going to The Shewsy and Restart, a Kenyan charity for orphaned children which is run by former Headmaster Ted Maidment. So far the film has raised over £700 and we are trying to reach the magic four figures.
Barry Normal (School House Third Form)
“So scary it kept me awake at night” Narco Lepsy
“I was bowled over” Umpire Magazine
"I am going to re-think my economic policy as a result of this film" George Osborne
"A spiritual masterpiece" The Archbishop of Canterbury
"Inspiring. I am going to win Wimbledon” Andrew Murray