Tristram Shandy – the movie

There’s a new film of Tristram Shandy which is showing at the London Film Festival. They’ve given it the title A Cock and Bull Story, from the last lines of the book:

‘L—d! said my mother, what is all this story about? –
A COCK and a BULL, said Yorick – and one of the best of its kind I ever heard’

All the comments you read about it make reference to the fact that it’s regarded as ‘unfilmable’. You can see what they mean, but I can’t help thinking that, of all the early novelists, Sterne is the one who would have just loved making films. The book is full of great dialogue and slightly extraordinary characters, slapstick, set pieces, and technical innovation. The man who wrote a novel that includes a marbled page and those little squiggly lines to indicate the shape of his narrative would have loved playing with all the possibilities of film.

Whether or not the new film does a good job of it is another matter. I’m slightly underwhelmed to see all the usual britcom suspects in the cast – Steve Coogan, David Walliams, Stephen Fry, Ronni Ancona, Rob Brydon – because it suggests a film being played for fairly broad comedy. And I’d almost always rather see an actor doing comedy than a comedian acting. Still, it could be fab.

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