Film Review: Starter for 10 (2006)

 “Sometimes it’s not about knowing the right answer”

Starter for 10 may only have been filmed seven or eight years ago but for several of its leads, it feels like a lot longer. For it is a great opportunity to see James McAvoy, Rebecca Hall and Benedict Cumberbatch earlier in their careers and all exhibiting a youthful freshness which has now matured out of their performances. David Nicholls wrote the screenplay from his own novel, about a working class Essex lad to makes it to university in Bristol, the first in his family, and pursues his long-cherished dream of participating in TV quiz show University Challenge

McAvoy plays Brian, the naïf at the heart of the story, looking almost impossibly young and appealingly handsome and there’s fun to be had in his awkwardness at settling into uni life, his pursuit of the brittle TV presenter wannabe blonde Alice, played by Alice Eve and his burgeoning friendship with Rebecca Hall’s politically active student Rebecca. Hall is wonderful here, full of quirky charm and wry humour and as the ‘right’ one for Brian, even though he can’t see it, there’s a great pull to their relationship. 

Personally I preferred the storyline about Brian’s dislocation from everything he is familiar with and the struggles he has in reconciling his new life and all its aspirations, with the more prosaic delights of his home life, the schoolfriends he’s left behind, the arcade games and pubs of his teenage years. These scenes are given colour by the likes of Dominic Cooper and James Corden, and a delightfully basin-wigged Catherine Tate as his mother (although she is way too young to be have cast in the part) but they have an understated honesty to them, a touching resonance to anyone who made a similar move in starting a new life away from home. 

The University Challenge sequences are fun as well though, not least for a uniquely frothing performance from Benedict Cumbercatch as the obsessed quiz captain who is determined to atone for past mistakes on the show, and if the climax of the film feels typically bittersweet in a Brit-flick kind of way, it feels the right conclusion. Mark Gatiss does a great job of impersonating Bamber Gascoigne, Charles Dance and Lindsay Duncan reveal nicely toned bodies, a fabulous 80s soundtrack keeps everything pootling along marvellously – a great film to while away an autumnal evening to.

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