Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story

Many deem Laurence Sterne's 1759 novel Tristram Shandy to be unreadable. You might also call it unfilmable if the devilishly clever director Michael Winterbottom (24 Hour Party People) hadn't figured out how to do it. He and screenwriter Martin Hardy dream up a film-within-a-film scenario in which the incomparably funny Steve Coogan (playing himself, Tristram and Tristram's dad, Walter Shandy) fights with his co-star Rob Brydon (playing himself and Toby Shandy, Tristram's uncle) about what the novel means and how much screen hogging the other is doing. It sounds confusing, but it's really inventive and bizarre end marvelously entertaining. You learn all sorts of academic things about the novel, along with raucous real-life bits about Coogan and lap dancers. Lillian Anderson and Jeremy Northam add to the wicked mischief in ways I couldn't possibly explain. Don't ask me.

From The Archives Issue 109: May 25, 1972