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Dominic Cooper
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Starter For Ten
Very British movie about a young man's determination to get onto University Challenge.

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Set in 1985, working-class student Brian Jackson (McAvoy) navigates his first year at Bristol University. When the chance arises, he seizes his opportunity to live his dream of appearing on University Challenge. While romancing a posh girl, of course.

Starter For Ten
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The first film from Sam Mendes’ Neal Street Productions, and boasting Tom Hanks as producer, Starter For Ten embodies all the qualities we’ve come to associate with Mendes. It’s laden with intelligence, sensitivity, a keen understanding of human relationships and a sharp sense of humour, even if, on the surface at least, it’s a much lighter slice of cinema than American Beauty or Road To Perdition.
      An adaptation of screenwriter David Nicholls’ popular 2004 novel and the feature debut of Cold Feet director Tom Vaughan, this is a very British movie. It centres around 18 year-old Brian’s (James McAvoy) determination to make it onto University Challenge. But while superficially key in terms of plot, Bristol University’s progress in the contest is effectively context for the more universal elements of the tale — Brian’s grief for his dead father, the confusion of falling in love for the first time, and the broader agonies of growing up and leaving home, as friendships evolve, values change and mistakes are inevitably made.
Nicholls’ screenplay addresses these themes deftly, by turns deeply touching and hugely funny: at times toe-curlingly so, as Brian cringes his way through the usual teenage traumas. Largely set in just two locations — the confines of Brian’s student digs and the bleakly cheerful, windswept seafront of his Essex hometown (a neat visual metaphor for Brian’s world-worn yet resilient mum, played by Catherine Tate) — Starter For Ten has a wonderfully intimate feel, compounded by its evocative 1985 setting. Boasting a soundtrack almost exclusively care of The Cure (purists will cringe at the anachronistic use of 1989’s Pictures Of You), there is a clear sense that this is a very specific moment — both literally in its ‘80s nostalgia and in a broader sense, that rarefied time of late adolescence when new experiences have almost a hyper-reality about them. The rites-of-passage roster is nothing new — first toke of weed, first date, first kiss — but a real sense of human vulnerability pervades the piece, making for a far richer experience than we tend to expect of a ‘mere’ comedy.
        This is in no small part down to the excellent cast. From principals to supporting players (keep your eye out for a naked Charles Dance — though frankly he’d be hard to miss), it’s impossible not to fall back on the hackneyed phrase that the actors seem born to play these roles. Alice Eve (daughter of Shoestring!) brings a sense of warmth and compassion to the part of smart, sexy seductress Alice, who so easily could have proved the usual clichéd spoilt princess; while Benedict Cumberbatch, whose role as pompous team captain Josh verges the closest to caricature and offers the broadest laughs, still manages to suggest the human being behind the clown.
      Yet the film’s beating heart is McAvoy. Already eye-catching in a clutch of TV roles and the standout as Mr. Tumnus in Narnia, McAvoy’s performance as the gentle, naïve Brian is one of the most exciting in years, not least because comedy is perhaps the most difficult genre in which to impress in a dramatic sense. Seemingly able to convey the profoundest emotions merely by blinking (witness Alice and Brian’s ill-fated first date at the local Italian) and yet equally adept in its lighter comic moments, McAvoy brings a depth and dimension that lift this beyond the usual confines of the rom-com genre, and confirms his growing reputation as one of the best actors of his generation.

Set to join the pantheon of beloved Brit-coms like Four Weddings and Bridget Jones’s Diary — if there’s any justice — this is a true winner, and the smartest comedy you will see this year.

Reviewed by Liz Beardsworth

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Average user rating for Starter For Ten
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Top and Topical

James McAvoy's performance here is a delight;nuanced,real and credible.The film gets so many other things right including,the positioning of Delia Smith's 'One is Fun' on our heroe's bed as he seems finally to be leaving that solo world behind.The haphazard and fragile milieu of Eighties' college life is pefectly evoked and the comedy is consistent, human and educative.The film's central conceit about our question and answer testing system, and the human beings it produces, never fails.See this... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Russ2046 at 19:30, 07 January 2007 | Report This Post

RE: Starter For Ten

What an interesting twist to University Challenge. I have never watched the programme in my life and still wouldn't thanks to this movie.   I did however enjoy the film and had a few laughs in between.  Would watch it again ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by angel26816 at 11:57, 05 December 2006 | Report This Post

Student Angst in the Eighties

An enjoyable and thoroughly British college comedy drama with great leads, cult soundtrack and, of course, Bamber-era University Challenge. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by mojojojo at 18:42, 25 November 2006 | Report This Post

Starter For Ten

Don't beleive the reviews above. even if it does have the Chick flick staples and falls a little short of evoking the mid 80's. but the droll humour and 80's soundtrack will instantly transform anyone over the age of 30 to that era- and the star making performance from james mc Evoy- what's not to like ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by moviemaniac2 at 15:43, 19 November 2006 | Report This Post

RE: Starter For Ten

]Phil, I'm just here to keep an eye on you!!! ... More

Posted by felix sore foot at 14:53, 16 November 2006 | Report This Post

RE: Starter For Ten

i] Let's hear it for Felix, everybody; he's here all week. ... More

Posted by Philconcannon at 22:50, 15 November 2006 | Report This Post

RE: Starter For Ten

]That's how long it took me to read Phil's review... ... More

Posted by felix sore foot at 20:07, 15 November 2006 | Report This Post

RE: Starter For Ten

2 hours to get to Manchester from Bristol?  In a 2CV?   ... More

Posted by wombathog at 15:19, 14 November 2006 | Report This Post

Starter For Ten

Who would have believed that ity Challengeprovide the central plot hook for a sweet romantic comedy? The long-running BBC quiz show has been parodied before on the small screen - remember that classic episode of ng Onesing 'Scumbag College'? - but now it makes the unlikely leap to the big screen in the unoriginal but amiable comedy for Tenapting his own successful novel, screenwriter David Nicholls places the programme at the climax of a story which hits all of the requisite rom-com beats with... More

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Posted by Philconcannon at 18:55, 13 November 2006 | Report This Post


]How right you are. Easily one of the worst films of the year. The jokes are sub-mental, the acting atrocious & the story could have been written by an idealistic 8 year old. Utter shit. Avoid. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by felix sore foot at 18:33, 13 November 2006 | Report This Post

Don't believe the hype - this is just another trite romantic comedy, a "chick flick" all the way through. And don't expect much University Challenge-related content. Why it's called "Starter for Ten" is a mystery to me... Very disappointing. ... More

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Posted by csymeo at 20:48, 12 November 2006 | Report This Post

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