Film review: Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story

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Tristram Shandy
Self-referential, actors-playing-themselves films have become a lot more common these days, probably since Being John Malkovitch, which I remember at the time seemed so revolutionary with its use of Malkovitch playing Malkovitch (well, a somewhat larger than life version, anyway … and a version whose head you could enter through a little passageway in the wall of an office building).

So faced with filming the nine volumes of Laurence Sterne’s novel, “The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, Michael Winterbottom in fact gives a pretty light look into the world of film-making, mixed with a bit of the novel here and there. Not having read the book, I can’t tell you if the themes explored here reflect the themes of the book, but if they do, that’s another layer on an entertaining and funny film that can happily be taken at face value.

Steve Coogan, actor and comedian, aka Alan Partridge, plays a somewhat larger than life version of himself as the eponymous hero. You can tell Coogan had a lot of fun with the part, happily sending himself up as an egotistical and somewhat petty actor trying to do a ‘serious’ role. Well let’s hope he’s sending himself up anyway. Rob Brydon plays his genitally challenged cousin (war wound)—and himself as Brydon dealing with Coogan’s ego armed with an array of excellent voice impressions; Gillian Anderson has a brief cameo as the Widow Wadman—and herself; the crew deal with the demands of a tight budget and a nitpicking historical advisor (I bet he plays boardgames), Coogan deals with his wife and baby on set while he is tempted by an affair; and we get a fascinating insight into the ego clashes and compromises in a day on a film set.

Winterbottom keeps all these balls in the air, and more, with great aplomb, and there’s a wonderful fly on the wall feel about the whole film. There are some excellent moments with Dylan Moran as an inept 18th century doctor, and a brief appearance by Stephen Fry who seems to be popping up in a lot of things these days. It’s a post-modern book about a book that was post-modern before there was any modern to be post about … to paraphrase Coogan.

Three and a half powdered wigs out of five. Oh, and stay for the credits.

One Comment (+add yours?)

  1. anaglyph
    Jul 07, 2006 @ 20:04:08

    Steve Coogan and Dylan Moran in a film together. What more needs to be said?
    ‘Knowing me, knowing you… Aha!’