Films

A Cock And Bull Story

UK release date: 20 January 2006


cast list

Steve Coogan
Rob Brydon
Keeley Hawes
Shirley Henderson
Dylan Moran
David Walliams
Kelly MacDonald
Gillian Anderson
Stephen Fry
Ian Hart
James Fleet
Naomie Harris

directed by
Michael Winterbottom
A Cock And Bull Story opens with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in make-up. The subject? Brydon’s teeth, and what a curious shade of yellow they are. Both reel off what sounds like long-established staples of the Dulux catalogue, Brydon’s ‘Tuscan Sunset’ particularly appealing. “More like pub ceiling” suggests Coogan, and the blueprint is set.

The pair are in the process of transformation into the two leads of Laurence Sterne’s 18th century classic, The Life And Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, with Coogan taking the title role (naturally) and Brydon, the ‘co-lead’, threatening to steal his screen space as Uncle Toby.

Initially the film is a straight biopic of Shandy, but as the birth scene and eye watering yet hilarious circumcision of the young Tristam are played out, the camera retreats to take in the film crew, flitting between first, second and third person with an enjoyably confusing regularity, the spirit of the novel kept well in mind. So we have behind the scenes, in front of the scenes, and the scenes themselves!

For what deepens the plot still further is that Coogan and Brydon are also playing out their own lives on screen. As he films, Coogan is busy, fending off the attentions of a tabloid journalist wanting copy on an affair with a lap dancer, enjoying brief moments of domestic bliss with wife Jenny (the excellent Kelly MacDonald) and their newborn baby, then indulging in bouts of flirting with runner Jennie (Naomie Harris).

Meanwhile on the front screen proper, Coogan’s paranoia about losing screen time (and presence) has been placated by a second role, that of Tristam’s father Walter, putting him in the unique position of being able to attend his own birth, splendidly guttural in the hands and clenched hips of Keeley Hawes.

If all this sounds far too confusing, then fear not. With so much comedic talent and possibility on screen it really doesn’t matter, with uproariously funny scenes on hand courtesy of Brydon’s Alan Partridge impressions, a painful incident between Coogan and a hot chestnut that reduced me to tears, and the constant, almost marital bickering between the pair, consummated in their Al Pacino impressions over the final credits. In addition there are cameos for Stephen Fry, David Walliams, Dylan Moran and an excellent performance each from the directors, James Fleet and Ian Hart.

The vulnerable Coogan continues to nag, however, and after asking for shoes with bigger heels to enhance his leading man’ credentials, his insecurities spread to the shape of his nose. Meanwhile the film’s future, in the balance on several occasions in real life, suddenly hangs on the extravagant battle scene, with Mark Williams‘ boorish extra to the fore, with the whole scene then inevitably cut from the finished version, to the chagrin of many.

With a well chosen soundtrack of classical music based on the 18th and 19th centuries, the scenes in costume are extremely well done, while the all-embracing footage of warts and all brings reminders of Ricky Gervais’ Extras, no more so than in the appearance of Gillian Anderson for a high profile cameo.

This is a hugely enjoyable film, and ranks alongside 24 Hour Party People as one of Coogan’s finest big screen ventures to date, which will be a relief to some. Expect to laugh while scratching your head!



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