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To celebrate the brand new academic year, our DVD this week is Starter for 10, a comedy drama based on the book of the same name by David Nicholls about a group of students at Bristol University who make it onto University Challenge. The title of the film comes from the famous phrase for the first question of each round of University Challenge, which is worth ten points: “Your starter for ten is…”
Brian Jackson (James McAvoy), a working-class student from Southend-on-Sea, manages to get a place at Bristol University in 1985. He quickly finds himself torn between two girls, the sharp, anti-establishment Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and the popular, rich Alice (Alice Eve). Brian has loved watching University Challenge ever since he was little and has a talent for remembering facts and figures, but when he decides to join the University Challenge team at Bristol, he faces resistance from the snobbish team captain, Patrick (Benedict Cumberbatch). Meanwhile, Brian’s childhood friends, Tone and Spencer (James Corden and Dominic Cooper) are a constant reminder of where he comes from. Brian is determined to prove that his background doesn’t make him any less worthy of a place on the quiz team than the other members, but will his ambition be his downfall?
With a cast of now world-famous British actors, Starter for 10 is a fun story with a serious heart. While they were well-known in British film and TV, none of the main actors had yet to attain the international acclaim they have today. Corden and Cooper had appeared together in the original stage production and the later film adaptation of The History Boys, but this was long before the cast would be appearing in films like X-Men: First Class, the Star Trek reboot, Iron Man 3, Captain America: the First Avenger and The Hobbit trilogy.
The film manages to capture the excitement of going to university, especially since 1980’s Bristol was a hotbed of activism and protest. The characters share their love of music and literature whilst apparently still finding time to train for University Challenge, take part in protest marches and attend their lectures! For anyone who grew up watching University Challenge, it’s also exciting to see behind the scenes at the famously difficult quiz show. Mark Gatiss (one of the major writers for Doctor Who and Sherlock, as well as a comedian in The League of Gentlemen) plays Bamber Gascoigne, the real-life host of University Challenge before Jeremy Paxman in the more modern revived version of the show.
Be warned: this film has quite a weepy bit before the end, but all’s well that ends well and it’s a great watch for getting you enthused about a new year of study!
Find Starter For 10 in the DVD Lobby at 791.43.
If you liked Starter For 10…
Read the book by David Nicholls, Starter For Ten (BOOK ZONE 823.92). Nicholls, who has more recently become famous for One Day, drew on his own time at Bristol University for Brian’s story, though he does not name the university in his book.
Watch The History Boys (2006) (BOOK ZONE 822.91), the story of a teacher employed to tutor a group of students at a grammar school and help them get into Oxford or Cambridge. Based on a play by Alan Bennett, The History Boys is bittersweet and sometimes difficult to watch, but it’s a well-written film about the challenges teachers and students face.
Try The Social Network (2010) (DVD LOBBY 791.43), a biopic about Mark Zuckerberg, one of the founders of Facebook. Like Starter For 10, it’s a drama about ambitious young people trying to find their place in the world and the dangers and price of success.