Starter For Ten – David Nicholls

Starter for Ten

Brian Jackson is studying English Literature at university. It is a whole different world to the one he has been accustomed to for eighteen years as he tries to avoid social pitfalls, make new friends, reinvent his image, try not to antagonise the strong-minded Rebecca Epstein, get the girl of his dreams, Alice…all whilst trying to do well academically. It is not an easy task for Brian, who soon focuses his efforts on entering on the university’s team for University Challenge, something that holds significance for him and his father, and something that could hold the key to improving his social status and popularity. If only he could avoid the numerous obstacles that life keeps throwing his way to reach the finals…

 

Starter For Ten is a hilarious coming-of-age story as Brian stumbles from one misfortune to another, a particular cringeworthy moment is when he meets Alice’s parents. Talking of Alice, his relationship with her seems doomed from the start – you can sense that she isn’t really committed as much as Brian is, and it is a bit weary as Brian acts so obliviously to this when it is obvious that Rebecca is in love with him and has more in common with him. It is only at the end when Brian realises this, and we don’t even read about him making that realisation. David Nicholls captures the awkwardness of those first moments in going to university and trying to fit in against a backdrop of cultural references and political notes from the 1980s, such as the styles and Spencer’s unemployment. Despite the title, the emphasis is more on Brian getting to grips with life and standing on his own two feet, having the courage and conviction to gain what he wants. However, the parts surrounding the quiz are humorous, in particular, quiz freak Patrick’s obsession with winning after his defeat the previous year. The culmination of the University Challenge plot strand was unexpected and made for an unusual ending!

 

This was a great read but I felt it lacked the emotional punch that One Day had (due to personal preference I think).  The supporting characters in Starter For Ten aren’t given enough description to make them feel real and as though you can connect and sympathise with them. However, I would still recommend this highly.

One Day DVD review

Based on the hit novel of the same name written by David Nicholls, how does this film adaptation compare?

The movie follows the path of two friends, Dexter (Jim Sturgess) and Emma (Anne Hathaway) after their graduation party as they try to make sense of life, career and love. Almost becomng lovers but not quite on the 15th July 1989, the audience follow their story on the 15th July of each ensuing year.

The best thing about this is the acting: Anne Hathway drea a lot of criticism about her “Northern” accent, but whilst it is undeniably shaky at times, it doesn’t detract from the performance she gives. She portrays Emma well – the witty, clever, at times vulnerable traits are all encapsulated in her acting. Jim Sturgess shines in this film though, amanging to portray Dexter at all stages of his journey well, still retaining likeability and charm, more appealing in the film than the book. The closing stages of the film are particulary good, and I felt like Sturgess’ performance really added to this. The two stars also share good chemistry between each other to pull this film off.

I read the book before watching the film, and it feels like this has missed out some key points and made changes that mean that it fails to embellish the story and characters fruther. Given the time constraints of the film, I understand that somse bits have to cut out, but Dexter’s spiral into destruction as his TV career rises and then falls wasn’t explored deeply enough, and you don’t get a sense of Emma’s struggle to find herself as that parts before she gets to that stage are missed out. The main characters are transformed into more perfect people, whereas in the book they were more flawed and real.

I also felt that the story goes too quickly and it isn’t clear to follow at times, for example, when Dexter visits his ill mother, he is under the influence of drugs, but this isn’t really made clear. In fact, apart from sweating, Dexter seems to continue to act normal, and it glosses over Dexter’s dark times. I think that whilst the idea of the book following one day a year works well in the book, it affects the story in the film. It feels choppy and if I didn’t read the book before, I don’t know if I would have understood the film as well. As it is a movie, you don’t get the opportunity to reveal a character’s inner thoughts or explore their lives more deeply, which helps the story telling in the book. Dexter and Emma’s relationship in the film seems to be one of constant love. This isn’t a negative, but in the story, it is more complex. At Tilly’s wedding in the movie, the audience is left with the impression that he still loves Emma, even though he is about to marry Slyive. In the book, he truly does love Sylvie at the beginning. When his wife leaves him in the movie, you don’t feel Dexter’s sadness or anger like you do in the book.

I like the general story idea and the acting is fantastic. Overall, I enjoyed the film, although I think it could have been done better. I do prefer the book, but this is a solid adaptation. 3.5 stars (a 0.5 extra for the acting).