We’re going British today. Interestingly enough, for a movie about a quiz, it’s a winner.
Shocker! Another decent romantic comedy!
Brian Jackson has grown up with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge ingrained in him by his late father. Arriving at Bristol University in 1985, he immediately tries out for the University Challenge team. Soon enough, he finds himself falling for his teammate, the flighty but gorgeous blonde Alice, but he might be better suited to his activist friend, the equally gorgeous but more down-to-earth brunette Rebecca. Hijinks ensue.
A while ago, I mentioned that almost all of the good college-based movies seemed to be American. It was a sub-genre that British flicks never really seemed to delve into, other than as a brief element in a wider story (such as the Howard Marks biopic Mr Nice). Well, I now sit corrected. Here is a funny, heartfelt, well-acted, British college movie. Starter For 10, adapted by David “One Day” Nicholls from his own novel, tells the story of Brian, played by James McAvoy, a somewhat sheltered small-town lad coming to the bustling big city of Bristol to seek his education.
Even though our university experiences were separated by 13 years (and the Walls of Fiction), what struck me most about this film was the reality of it all. So much of the story reminded me of things I had seen or experienced at uni: the grubby kitchens; the proprietary post-its; the occasionally crossdressing flatmates; The Smiths (I really hate The Smiths)… Like his protagonist, David Nicholls started at Bristol Uni in 1985, so there is no doubt that a lot of the story’s texture is autobiographical.
Made in 2006, Starter For 10 features a lot of the current great and good of British film and TV. James McAvoy makes a thoroughly engaging lead; book-smart but convincingly naïve at the same time. Alice Eve and Rebecca Hall play the respective leading ladies, both creating fully realised characters around what can sometimes resemble a collection of clichés. Sherlock’s Benedict Cumberbatch steals every scene he appears in as the Pattonesque Patrick, captain of the quiz team. His future TV brother Mark Gattis is an uncanny Bamber Gascoigne, so much so that I initially thought director Tom Vaughan was intercutting footage of the real Bamber during one early scene. Here’s a footnote for the comic geeks: with Dominic Cooper playing Brian’s hometown pal Spencer, this flick might be only occasion where Charles Xavier and Howard Stark appear on screen together.
This is a charming and very British coming-of-age story that, very realistically, isn’t all sweetness and light. It is never less than entertaining though, with a soundtrack guaranteed to get the nostalgia glands flowing.