Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story

March 15th, 2007 DVD Reviews, Film, Xpress

If Michael Winterbottom had a nickname, it would undoubtedly be ‘Mr Postmodern’. Not just because it’s a quality he inherently achieves in his work, but it’s the single aspect of his films that gets a bit overdone by its overzealous use and self-effacing promotion by the cast.

What it means however is that Tristram Shandy; A Cock and Bull Story is one very big and extremely funny pisstake on moviemaking. With the novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman considered unfilmable, Winterbottom has decided to take the very clever route of showing a film crew trying to film the unfilmable, the leads Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon playing brilliant and barely veiled versions of themselves.

The beauty is in the details; Coogan, Brydon and the whole crew making you think you’re watching a documentary. Despite multiple levels of stories within stories, you don’t realise until it’s all over that the whole thing has had you going and you’ve believed the truth was in there somewhere when all the time the whole thing’s been a carefully staged sham no different than any other movie.

It’s a level of subtlety American and to a lesser extent Australian comic performers and creators rarely grasp, and such razor-fine self-awareness makes it one of the best examples of the Very British Comedy genre.

Most of the extras continue the theme, but it’s the commentary with Brydon and Coogan that’s essential viewing. In what must be one of the funniest tracks ever, it’s the only time you see the pair as their real selves, and even then they have fun with the boundaries.


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