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Starter for Ten

Starter for 10 is pure feel-good romantic nostalgia, whether you lived in 1980's London or not.


From the time he was a wee lad, Brian Jackson (James McAvoy) yearned to be on University Challenge, a popular British TV quiz show. He watched the show with his family as a child but never thought of himself as very clever, like his streetwise buddy Spencer (Dominic Cooper). So, when the working class Essex youth is ready to go to college, Brian jumps at the chance of joining the college brainiac team. Even better, Brian finds an added incentive—the sexy and smart team member Alice (Alice Eve). The team is run by a persnickety and uptight geek named Patrick (Benedict Cumberbatch), who makes people take their shoes off before entering his immaculate apartment. But, as a group, they're unstoppable. Along the way, Brian meets some unconventional roommates, including the politically conscious Rebecca (Rebecca Hall), who would rather organize rallies than go to school. Brian's worlds clash when Spencer comes to visit him at college, just before their team goes on the show.


McAvoy is the unsung hero of The Last King of Scotland, co-starring with Oscar winner Forest Whitaker as the young doctor. He's a fine actor, although you may only recognize him as Mr. Tumnus, the faun from The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. As Brian, McAvoy plays the romantic lead well--an affable ordinary guy who remains impossibly tied to his working-class roots. He alternately proud and embarrassed by his mum and her salesman boyfriend, who are in sharp contrast to Alice's more liberal, intellectual—and ultimately nude--parents (played by veteran British actors Lindsay Duncan and Charles Dance). McAvoy's reactions are priceless. Starter for 10 also has a strong supporting cast, even if their characters are a tad one-note at times. Stand out is Hall, who plays Rebecca as a super-smart Annie Hall.


Newbie director Tom Vaughan has successfully recreated college in the 1980s, even for those people who didn't live it. The clothing, cars, styles are all realistic, charming in that '80s innocence. Particularly fantastic is the New Wave soundtrack which includes Motorhead, Psychedelic Furs and Wham! It's obvious the British director has spent the decade in his hometown, attending Tarts & Vicars parties (where you come dressed up as a prostitute or a priest) and listening to this music. The tender and painful love scenes, such as the New Year's Eve moment between Brian and Rebecca, are directed with lots of humor, as is the inevitable fight scene that breaks out when Brian's worlds collide. Vaughan's sensibility to keep it tongue-in-cheek stops the movie from falling into a silly teen period romance. And although the phrase Starter for 10 is a particularly British expression, the film translates well to a U.S. audience.

Bottom Line rated this film 4 stars.