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 producers of this film may have dug a pit for themselves by choosing to set it in 1985. The 1985 competition (which was not broadcast for a year) was a brief return for the series after a short hiatus. Granada had decided to pep it up by modifying the format. In round 1 teams played each other over two programs, the first of which comprised of a "baton relay". Competitors were pitched one-against-one and had to answer two questions correctly before passing the baton on to the team-mate to the left. None of this was reflected in the film. In addition, the set was completely redesigned in red and black, unlike the more recognizable scheme employed in the film. See more »
[trying to talk to Rebecca at a political rally]
Could we go somewhere... less angry?
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Surveying the wreckage of numerous other such films - burdened at their outset with flimsy premises, one-dimensional characters, stale gimmicks that coast on the fumes of pop cultural trends, and implausible "meet-cute" situations - which could not be sustained even with big-name talent, inestimable budgets, and plague-like advertising campaigns, I was understandably sceptical as to how the "romantic comedy" aspect of this film might play out when I first sat down to watch it. In retrospect, I honestly couldn't have been more pleased. Rare indeed is the occasion when I have walked out of a theatre feeling unambiguously good about what I saw, believing that it was well worth the time and money I spent to watch it.
The story forming the basis of "Starter for 10" is handled with a great deal of humour, sensitivity, and intelligence. At no time did any part of it feel forced or contrived, nor was it condescending. Testament to this film's openness and accessibility, the emotional connection that I formed with the primary character (James MacEvoy - may he have a long and distinguished career ahead of him) was subtly cultivated throughout, reinforced by simple - yet heartachingly truthful - moments of confusion, awkwardness, uncertainty, and disappointment of the kind anyone might experience (and probably has) in similar circumstances. "Starter for 10" masterfully captures the spirit of that time in one's life wherein a person fully enters the world and begins to establish her- or himself as an individual.
So often, and unfortunately, it is the case that I see people on the screen with whom I cannot identify, in situations to which I cannot relate (this is typically due in part to the performers' overblown celebrity status and the general "Hollywood" gloss that is spread thickly over the top of everything). Not so where "Starter for 10" is concerned.
Perhaps it's no coincidence that "Starter for 10" references "The Graduate," since I believe it shall, in time, prove itself a worthy descendant of that film's legacy and subsequently receive the higher profile that it deserves.
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