A Cock and Bull Story

By sizemore Last edited 154 months ago
A Cock and Bull Story

In a previous life, before blogging turned our heads, we actually used to read literature. Studied a few books too. In fact we spent more than one evening working our way line by line through the likes of James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, but one novel we always came back to was Laurence Sterne's 'The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman'. We were always bemused by the fact that Sterne managed to out maneuver most postmodernists almost 200 years before they were even born. So of course when we first heard that it was to be filmed we scoffed. Maybe Gilliam would get the look of it right, but who else could tackle such an important work in a manner that would ever do it justice? Well let's just say that we never bargained on Alan Partridge stepping up.

A Cock and Bull Story takes the only route possible in bringing the novel to life by ignoring vast sections of the book. In much the same way that the novel never quite gets round to the life of Tristram, so too does the movie never really bother to get to grips with the text. It's too busy fictionalising the filming of the unfilmable novel and in particular the ego of the star of the film - Steve Coogan as played by Steve Coogan. If you saw him in Jim Jarmusch's Coffee and Cigarettes you'll know what we mean. Coogan as portrayed in the film only took the part because he thought that the thing was going to be about him, Tristram, only discovering on set that friend and rival Rob Brydon may actually be getting more screen time as Tristram's Uncle Toby (including a plump scene or two with Gillian Anderson no less). What this all amounts to is a beautiful shaggy dog story and simply one of the funniest movies we've ever had the pleasure to sit through.

If you're a fan of Coogan and Brydon already then you'll get an extra kick out of the interplay between them - especially as when Brydon, much to Coogan's discomfort begins doing his Alan Partridge impression on set. Fans of the book though will also find plenty of familiar scenes such as the build up to the birth complete with Dylan Moran as Dr Slop (cutting edge technology and all), young Tristram's 'accident' with the window sash, his clock winding induced conception and subsequent accidental naming along with much discussion of exactly where Uncle Toby was wounded. We can't help but think that Sterne would have approved of the antics revealed once the filming stops as reality and fiction merge in a very satisfying and almost unique way.

It's a serious return to form for Michael Winterbottom after the dull sex and duller music of 9 Songs and he also gets to direct himself or at least Jeremy Northam playing him. More significantly it also marks his return (sort of) to period drama after Jude and working with Coogan after 24 Hour Party People. The layers multiply again once Tony Wilson turns up to interview Coogan for one of the extras on the inevitable DVD! Christ knows what fun they'll eventually have with the 'real' DVD - the commentary tracks alone would be mind boggling. Elsewhere the ever wonderful Ian Hart plays the writer faced with battling baffling requests from both the talent and the money people especially concerning the over budget battle scenes - expertly watched over by Mark Williams (The Fast Show) on set guide of all things 18th century. In fact a whole host of recognisable faces feature throughout including Stephen Fry, while Shirley Henderson's portrayal of the maid ("...beef curtains...") is hilarious (watch out for a lot more of her in the accomplished Brit thriller Frozen next week).

As you can tell from all the magazine covers though this is very much a two man affair. There isn't a second of screen time wasted with Coogan constantly painting himself in awkward corners while trying to do everything he can in the one-upmanship stakes. Brydon meanwhile just carries on oblivious, asking his 'friend' to touch his teeth and garnering advice on how to overcome the feelings of a sexual nature that he has for Scully. Coogan of course is more concerned that his shoes aren't tall enough stop it looking like Rob is taller than him. And then there's the matter of the sexy runner and the upcoming visit by his wife and baby... comedy gold from start to finish. Even with so many great releases this week it's still the first film you should be queuing for tonight. Where else are you going to see Steve Coogan in a giant prosthetic womb?

Last Updated 20 January 2006