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FRESH.

First broadcast in autumn 1962, University Challenge gained a cult following, elevating TV host Bamber Gascoigne to almost iconic status during his 25-year tenure with the show.

The beloved battle of young minds inspired David Nicholls's comic novel Starter For Ten, which gained bestseller status through Richard & Judy.

The film version, adapted by Nicholls, remains faithful to the hugely enjoyable page-turner, and accomplishes that rare feat of surpassing the source material.

Meandering subplots have been tightened, dialogue polished, and the dramatic focus shifted to the geeky hero's pursuit of a romantic ideal.

James McAvoy is scarily believable as a socially awkward 18-year-old, who is ill equipped to woo the woman of his dreams.

He brings vulnerability, innocence and immense likeability to his role, representing the dreamer in all of us, who risks humiliation to follow his heart.

It's 1985. Shy, sensitive Essex lad Brian Jackson (McAvoy) has nurtured a love of trivia since he was a child.

"Ever since I can remember, I've wanted to be clever," he confides in voiceover.

So it seems only natural that he should want to escape his working class roots and dive head first into higher education at Bristol University, leaving behind his tearful mother (Tate) and best friends Spencer (Cooper) and Tone (Corden).

He settles in quickly at his new digs and signs up for auditions to find the campus' new University Challenge team, captained by the officious Patrick (Cumberbatch).

Brian is instantly smitten with his blonde nymphette teammate Alice Harbinson (Eve), who plans to use the television exposure to launch herself as an actress.

The two enjoy a brief fling but something seems to be missing from the relationship.

Could it be the emotional connection Brian feels with placard-waving political activist pal Rebecca Epstein (Hall)?

Starter For Ten scores maximum points with its hilarious one-liners and winning performances, including a great cameo for Mark Gatiss as quizmaster Gascoigne.

First time feature director Tom Vaughan, who cut his teeth behind the camera on the television series Cold Feet, doesn't try anything too flashy, concentrating on Brian's accident-prone journey of self-discovery.

Pacing is brisk, building to the showpiece sequence at University Challenge, which sees Brian and and co. pitted against the Queens' College Cambridge.

The banter between the generations sparks the best lines, like when Brian returns home and stuns his mother with the new he is to appear on television.

"What a relief!" she clucks, "To be honest Bri, I thought you were gonna say you were gay."
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Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Nov 13, 2006
Words:415
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