In 1985, against the backdrop of Thatcherism, Brian Jackson enrolls in the University of Bristol, a scholarship boy from seaside Essex with a love of knowledge for its own sake and a childhood spent watching "University Challenge," a college quiz show. At Bristol he tries out for the Challenge team and falls under the spell of Alice, a lovely blond with an extensive sexual past. He's smitten, and he carelessly manages to hurt the feelings of Rebecca Epstein, a friend whose politics and wit he admires. The Challenge finale is coming up; maybe Brian can redeem himself and still avoid being a prat. Written by
The film is set in late 1985/early 1986, but after the students argue in the car they turn on the radio and hear "Wonderful Life" by Black - which was not released until late in the summer of 1987. See more »
I admit it. I'd made some mistakes. Okay, some big mistakes. Loads of them. But you can't hide in your room forever feeling sorry for yourself. It's not practical. At some point, you've got to get back out there, face up to things, and confront your demons. Ever since I can remember, I'd wanted to be clever. Some people are born clever, same way some people are born beautiful. I'm not one of those people. I'm going to have to work at it, put in the effort, and if I mess it up, I'll learn from ...
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I attended the world premiere of "Starter for Ten" at the Toronto International Film Festival. First things first. Just as director Tom Vaughan did in introducing the film, let's get the explanation of the title out of the way. The plot centers around a group of university students competing on "University Challenge," a popular UK quiz show in which the host begins by announcing, "Starter for Ten..." The American equivalent would be, "I'll take Famous Armadillos for 20, Alex." Now that we're set in place, let's get set in time.
This is a period piece -- 1985, to be exact. And make no mistake about it -- the filmmakers went all out to recreate the mid-80's -- sets, costumes, hair and, most importantly (for this writer, anyway) the music. And oh, what great songs. That had me from the word "go." Finally, we need a protagonist. One who is captivating enough to command 90 minutes of our time. And this is, perhaps, the crowning achievement of this film. His name is James McAvoy, and he had no less than three films screening in Toronto this year. Talk about prolific. Though a bit older than the character Brian Jackson, he's convincing as a teenager off to discover himself and of what he is capable, in school, life, and affairs of the heart. He wins us over because he commands the screen and the script, and has the eyes of innocence and vulnerability with which we can all identify. He is everyman -- every boy/man -- and no doubt we see our own coming-of-age through his eyes. Throw all those elements together with a compelling love story and you have a formula for success. I asked McAvoy after the screening what his most difficult scene was. Without giving anything away, I'll just say that he becomes emotional at times, and quite convincingly. He told me that he had to keep reminding himself that it was Brian who was sad, not James. That's powerful stuff. This is a sweet, moving film which left me wanting more. I'll take "Starter for Ten," and I think you will, too.
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