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Movie Review

A Cock and Bull Story (15A)

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1 of 1 Coogan - On top form
Coogan - On top form

Directed by Michael Winterbottom, starring Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Keeley Hawes, Shirley Henderson, Kelly Macdonald, Naomie Harris, Dylan Moran, Jeremy Northam, Ian Hart, Kieran O'Brien, Tony Wilson, Stephen Fry and Gillian Anderson.

Michael Winterbottom directs and Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon star in this loose adaptation of Laurence Sterne's 'The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman'. This 18th Century novel has long been regarded as unfilmable. Winterbottom and writer Martin Hardy have taken that on board and effectively decided to make a film of the making of a Tristram Shandy movie instead.

It is not a snooty production and if you haven't read the literature, never fear. The majority of the cast have failed to leaf through it in their lifetimes either. The book, as Coogan puts it himself in the movie, was "a post-modern classic written way before there was any modernism to be post about."

It is the story of the goings on at Shandy Hall, a fictional grand English house in Yorkshire. Tristram Shandy (Coogan) tries to tell the story of his life but, after constantly getting sidetracked by other tales and anecdotes, never even manages to detail his own birth.

Sterne's masterpiece is only a vehicle to get into the real story, which is a clever, witty look at how modern movies are made as well as the relationships and haggling behind the scenes. It's so close to the bone that it practically gnaws. Coogan - who is arguably the greatest comic actor of his generation - multi-tasks on the project, playing the parts of Tristram, his father Walter and, most memorably, himself.

The Mancunian's extra-curricular activities have been tabloid media fodder of late and allegedly led to the break-up of his marriage. His last major movie outing here was the lacklustre 'Around the World in 80 Days'. Fans will be relieved to see him back on top form. His willingness to play a less than flattering version of himself is brave given his recent antics, but is undoubtedly a Coogan solution to a Coogan problem.

We follow an evening on location, with Coogan trying to juggle his wife Jenny (Macdonald) and their six-month-old baby, a sleazy journalist (O'Brien) who is threatening to expose a dirty secret, a bundle of Hollywood scripts and the lure of beautiful young runner Jennie (Harris). And that's only the half of it!

The cast is given added gravitas by the cameo appearances of Stephen Fry and Gillian Anderson. Even Tony Wilson (who Coogan played in '24 Hour Party People') pops up along the way. It is quite unrepentantly self-conscious. Rob Brydon excels as both Uncle Toby and himself, and his impersonations of Alan Partridge (an alter-ego that is haunting Coogan) are hilarious. The tone of their (Coogan and Brydon) on-screen, off-screen relationship is set from the opening scene, so avoid any slow-moving popcorn queues.

Sceptical aficionados of the novel will surely appreciate that Winterbottom & Co have brilliantly managed to capture its spirit.

It is rare that such an array of fine British talent comes together in a comic fashion on the silver screen, without Hugh Grant or a soppy script to push them apart. Please ensure your eyes avail of the opportunity.

Séamus Leonard

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