Starter for Ten

Set in the mid-’80s and based on David Nicholls’ bestselling novel, ‘Starter for Ten’ is a charming trawl through the ups and downs of a working-class lad’s first year at university. The ubiquitous James McAvoy plays Brian Jackson, an upwardly mobile, trivia-obsessed Essex boy who wins a place at Bristol, where he fulfils his dream by appearing on ‘University Challenge’. Romance blossoms with a beautiful teammate, but the course of true love doesn’t run smooth, and Brian is soon embarrassing himself on a terrible first date followed by a disastrous, drug-fuelled visit to her parents’ house. Can our awkward hero redeem himself through general knowledge? And what about Rebecca, the politically active best friend who clearly harbours feelings for Brian?

Produced by heavy-hitters Tom Hanks and Sam Mendes, this is expertly crafted entertainment that follows all the beats of a traditional romantic comedy, but it’s done with such sincerity that it’s difficult to begrudge the odd descent into cliché (though I was grimacing during the rain-soaked dash through cobbled campus lanes to deliver a love message). Winning performances save the day. McAvoy can do boyish charm in his sleep, while Alice Eve and Rebecca Hall are adorable as Brian’s love interests. Add to that a scene-stealing turn from Benedict Cumberbatch as pompous quiz captain Patrick and Mark Gatiss doing a better Bamber Gascoigne than the man himself, and the result is a smart and sweet comedy. The ’80s soundtrack is brilliant too.

Release details

Rated: 12A
Release date: Friday November 10 2006
Duration: 96 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Tom Vaughan
Screenwriter: David Nicholls
Cast: James McAvoy
Alice Eve
Rebecca Hall
Catherine Tate
Dominic Cooper
Benedict Cumberbatch
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