Freshers' year at university is as much about skirt chasing as it is about the pursuit of knowledge in Starter For 10. Adapting his best-selling novel, David Nicholls tells a conventional rites-of-passage story but lifts it with a generous dose of 80s nostalgia, plenty of quick-fire wit and an uncompromising sense of Britishness. For director Tom Vaughan, these are all the ingredients of a winning big screen debut. Casting James McAvoy in the lead scores him extra points.
McAvoy's gawky, self-effacing charm instantly endears his character Brian, a working-class swot who dreams of appearing on University Challenge. The prospect is made more appealing at the tryout when he encounters posh blonde Alice (Alice Eve). It's clear, however, that he's better suited to the feisty Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) who devotes her spare time to protest marching.
A thread of social commentary runs through the story, but it's hardly enough to make Ken Loach quake. Brian gets wise to the ways of the world through a spat with blue-collar pal Spencer (Dominic Cooper) and an uncomfortable meet-the-parents scenario at Alice's house. Benedict Cumberbatch does a wickedly funny turn as the upper-class twit who heads the team on University Challenge.
"BRIMS WITH LAUGHS AND WHIMSY"
In the final stretch, Vaughan's recreation of the BBC gameshow is a treat, brimming with laughs and bittersweet whimsy. An 80s soundtrack that flits from The Cure to Kate Bush completes the ambience. A little more of the punk spirit wouldn't have gone amiss (on the class issue), but Starter For Ten comfortably makes the grade for rib-tickling entertainment.