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 and early 1986. The students drive to the University Challenge recording in Manchester in a Citroen 2CV car with a tax disc that expires 12/1985. However, the car itself has a "D" registration suffix, which dates the car to 1 August 1986 at the earliest. See more »
Though he's been acting since 1995, young James McAvoy is poised to become the next great European import based on his kindly faun Mr. Tumnus in The Chronicles of Narnia and his wide-eyed work in The Last King of Scotland alongside Forest Whittaker's fierce Idi Amin. Yet sometimes a performer's measure isn't in their solid ensemble acting, but how they carry a minor work with the sheer force of talent or personality.
McAvoy's turn in Starter for Ten as frosh geek Brian Jackson, at University in 1985, is wondrously physical and inspired. He's graced with an infinitely pliable, benevolent face that's both plain and handsome. As a smart, shy working class boy, still reeling from the loss of his father years ago, McAvoy wields Jackson's intelligence as both sword and shield he draws you to him with his wit, and keeps you at arm's length with the same. For all his smarts, he's at a loss when drawn to both the enigmatic Julie (the piercingly funny Catherine Tate) a partner on the school's quiz team and the politically active Rebecca (the gangly beauty Rebecca Hall who hits low vocal notes reminiscent of Emma Thompson).
Directed by Tom Vaughan from an agile screenplay by David Nicholls, Starter for Ten is the best movie John Hughes would have made if he was English and set his comedies in college instead of high school. Though predictable and erratically paced, there's a real suggestion of university life in it. And McAvoy's creation wrings true emotion. He has a showcase scene in a restaurant where he goes from laughter to tears within the same sentence you're with him all the way. The movie is an entertaining piffle, but it serves notice that you just might be watching the birth of a star.
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