Review: Tristram Shandy, A Cock and Bull Story

Posted by , 14 November 2016

A movie about the making of a movie about a novel. What could go wrong?

“Tristram Shandy”. A name that lurks at the edge of my mind with barely no knowledge of what lies behind it. Thanks to this movie, I know a bit more but not really much more.

This in fact not a movie about the novel, but a movie about the making of a movie of the novel. This means that there are various scenes from the story played out, but the majority of the movie is about the interplay between the various actors and crew on the set of the movie.

Interestingly, the two main leads – Steve Coogan and Rob Byrdon – play themselves, as actors in the film being made about Tristram Shandy. For me, this is familiar territory having seen the duo in “The Trip”. I know it’s not to everyone’s taste, but I enjoy watching them together – the competitiveness as each tries to get something over the other (literally, in the case of height), the various impersonations of famous people they do while each tries to do it better than the other. But because we see behind the making of the movie, we also get glimpses into their personal lives, as we see Coogan juggling he needs of work and fatherhood.

Along the way there are appearances by well-known British actor in the roles of the various crew, and Gillian Anderson pops up as herself when the crew recruit her at the last minute.

It sounds like a mess and probably was a mess. But the beauty of this sort of filming is that you don’t get time to stop and think about what it means. The story bounces from the historical setting of the story with interjections from the actors as they attempt to clarify the scene, the after action moments where the cast and crew are planning ahead, the downtime when everyone is relaxing and then it starts up again.

It cleverly skewers the celebrity culture we live in by showing the reality of the movie industry, rather than just the results.

So what is it about? Tristram Shandy has the reputation of being the “unfilmable” book, much like The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha. To me, the movie is about thwarted ambitions – the thwarted ambitions of the director and producers of the movie, and the thwarted ambitions of Coogan and Brydon. For Coogan, there is ultimately redemption through fatherhood – possibly another dig at celebrity culture.


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