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Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story

Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story

3.0 out of 53.0 out of 53.0 out of 53.0 out of 5 3.0

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Like much of Michael Winterbottom’s work, Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story is a highly uneven enterprise. If it finally overcomes its flaws it’s due to the genius casting (specifically Steve Coogan in the titular, and, as it turns out, tripartite role of Laurence Sterne’s comic hero) as opposed to any strong-willed directorial vision. Winterbottom seems content to stay more or less anonymous in his films, a fact exemplified by his on-screen alter ego Mark (Jeremy Northam) who remains a befuddled background presence throughout. The conceit of this Tristram Shandy is that it knows it’s a movie, much as Sterne’s book knew it was a novel. Save for a hilarious introductory scene featuring Coogan verbally sparring with fellow actor (and semi-lookalike) Rob Brydon, the first half hour of the film stays fully within Tristram’s 18th-century setting, detailing several episodes straight from the text, which revolve around the oft-acknowledged fact that it takes hundreds of pages for Tristram to be born. The digressions build and build (think Benny Hill on methamphetamines) until the period piece falls away and a camera crew is revealed filming Tristram’s birth. Coogan, also playing Tristram’s father Walter, is now playing “Steve Coogan,” a withering British comic and new father who has a passive-aggressive fear of his co-star upstaging him and who is sorely tempted to jump into bed with his on-set assistant Jennie (Naomie Harris). From then on, the intertextual play between real and reel life is pretty much consistent throughout Tristram Shandy: the best bits feature all-too-short (and acknowledged as such) cameos by Stephen Fry and Gillian Anderson, the latter of whom plays herself as a bubbly California surfer girl, but the film really belongs to Coogan and Brydon who make a profound art out of rejoinder and one-upmanship.

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Distributor
Picturehouse
Runtime
91 min
Rating
R
Year
2005
Director
Michael Winterbottom
Screenwriter
Martin Hardy
Cast
Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Keeley Hawes, Shirley Henderson, Dylan Moran, David Williams, Jeremy Northam, Benedict Wong, Naomie Harris, Kelly Macdonald, Elizabeth Berrington, Mark Williams, Kieran O'Brien, Roger Allam, James Fleet, Ian Hart, Ronni Ancona, Stephen Fry, Gillian Anderson