Rewind to the 80s with the Marvelous Brit Pack…
A romantic comedy set in the 1980s with a British cast about love, life and University Challenge.
Starter For Ten trailer, PicturehouseDF and pictures © Icon Film Distribution
The film Starter for 10‘s title comes from a catchphrase from that British national treasure of a quiz show, University Challenge (1962-). University Challenge consisted of 2 teams of 4 university students pitted against each other to see who could gain the most points to questions the more random of subjects. Each different topic introduced with a starting question for 10 points. The show was compered by oft impersonated, Bamber Gascoigne and later Jeremy Paxman.
This phrase is as well-remembered as that other quiz show Blockbusters (1983-) in which 2 kids battled against 1 kid answering random questions to make a line across a board. The answers were represented by their first letter, and it was a constant source of amusement for some adults of a certain age who remember the programme by saying “Can I have a P please, Bob” then laugh hysterically. As we do.
Starter for 10 (2006) can best be described as a British spin of the 1980’s Brat Pack movies. Within this film, there is also a lovely little homage to this quiz show. Set in England in 1985, the film stars a multitude of British darlings and future Marvel superstars including James McAvoy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Rebecca Hall, Charles Dance, Catherine Tate and Lindsay Duncan. Along with Dominic Cooper and James Corden.
In their superbly written characters, they make this film more relatable and appealing to us Brits. This is especially as you can recognise many familiar British stereotypes from that time within this film. However, the stereotypes are not done in an offensive way, but more charmingly and in a way that makes you smile as you remember this time and people you had known then.
The film starts with a younger Brian watching quiz shows with his mum and dad. As he and his dad answer the questions together, you can see this is something they enjoy doing together with young Brian answering a wide range of questions. Flashforward to 1985, and after an interview Brian (now McAvoy) is accepted to Bristol University as a scholarship boy. He leaves his working-class background behind him, his widowed mum (Tate) and his friends Spencer (Dominic Cooper) and Tone (James Corden).
On his arrival at university, he meets the lads he’s sharing accommodation with. They are wearing lingerie and invite him along to a Vicars and Tarts party. At the party, he meets politically minded Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) who is sassy, witty and cool and they instantly become friends.
Brian’s life changes when he auditions for the University Challenge team, and becomes a reserve team member and after a freak accident, he is promoted to the team. During the audition, he meets the pretty blonde Alice (Alice Eve) who he hopes to date. She however only sees him as a friend and as a mine of trivial information.
The University team is run by the really intense and stuck up Patrick (Benedict Cumberbatch). Patrick takes winning this competition terribly seriously as they practice in the run-up to their appearance in the show. After Alice and Brian go out to celebrate his birthday, she invites Brian to her home for New Year. There things go delightfully awry in hysterical scenes, Brian returns to University alone, then spends New Year with friend Rebecca where…you have to tune in to find out!
This film was fantastic, you do feel transported back to the 1980s in more ways than one. The addition of the soundtrack of the Cure, The Smiths and Kate Bush added to the 1980s memories. As a bit of a Brat Pack afficionado, this film reminded me of many a John Hughes movie and other movies from the Brat Pack stars. Be it Brian’s experiences at university – reminding me of Class (1983) and Oxford Blues (1984) – or its characters.
From Brian’s arrival at his student flat, the lingerie attire of his male flatmates immediately reminded me of Rob Lowe’s initial appearance in Class with McAvoy’s awkwardness reminiscent of co-star Andrew McCarthy in the same scene. However this was with a British twist, they are to attend a Vicars and Tarts party. The film’s plot also reminded at times of Oxford Blues and the reasons for this can be seen as the film progresses, for those of you familiar with both films.
McAvoy’s Brian is sensitive, a scholarship student and aware of his faults. In addition to this and hair and clothes, he reminded me of Andrew McCarthy characters from a number of his 1980s movies. These included the aforementioned Class and also Pretty in Pink (1986). McAvoy played him well and was well cast.
Hall’s character was reminiscent of Watts in Some Kind of Wonderful (1987), with her attraction to Brian obvious from the start and despite this her encouragement of his hopeful relationship with Alice. Hall is delightful in this role – her debut – and it’s nice to see her in this fun role as compared with Scarlett Johansson’s uptight friend Vicky in Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008).
I disliked Cumberbatch in Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) as Khan. I feel nobody should have replaced Ricardo Montalban – except possibly Javier Bardem for his accent – but here Cumberbatch was well cast here as an annoying upper class twit, and was totally believable in this role. In a nice wee twist of six degrees of Cumberbatch, he also co-starred with Alice Eve in the Star Trek film. He also starred with James McAvoy in Atonement (2007). McAvoy, Cumberbatch, Cooper and Hall would also appear in different Marvel movies.
There are relevant political and social references to 1980s Thatcher’s Britain with the storyline showing the working class and upper class differences of this time. This is shown to great effect on a number of occasions with the relationships between Brian and his friends from home and at university and is especially seen when these worlds collide. The references to University Challenge were spot on, recreating the programme well with an excellent Gascoigne impersonation by Mark Gatiss (as recognised by darlin’ husband).
This programme was lovingly recreated from the show’s set to the familiar logos. But even some of the props, reminded me of this time and special praise must go to the prop master, from the font written on the audition posters for the show to the “Who shot Bobby?” mug I observed in a scene – with a reference to Dallas (1978-91) Bobby Ewing being shot at the end of season 7 of the show in 1984 – and this wee touch was simple and effective. So to sum this movie up as a Brat Pack and Dallas fan, what’s not to like?
Weeper Rating: 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 /10