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The Independent Culture

The charm of this breezy adaptation of David Nicholls' class of 1985 comedy derives from a double vision that allows both youthful intensity and retrospective wryness their due. James McAvoy plays bright Essex boy Brian whose naivety in the ways of the student world is matched only by his determination to appear on University Challenge. As he negotiates his first year at Bristol, the film lays out a series of ambushes and obstacles recognisable to anyone who's been through higher education: the freshers' party, the first awkward encounters, the first crush, all soundtracked by an Eighties mélange that relies heavily on student favourites The Cure.

What prevents it from sliding into a 1980s nostalgia-fest is an outstanding cast, all resolutely refusing the ironic nod and wink to the era. So, Lenin caps off to Alice Eve as the blonde siren Brian wants to impress, Rebecca Hall as the agitprop enthusiast he fails to appreciate, Catherine Tate as his kindly mum and Benedict Cumberbatch as the Tory MP-in-waiting team captain, not forgetting Mark Gatiss's spot-on impersonation of Bamber Gascoigne.

McAvoy hits just the right note of ingenuous decency, and his gauche little shimmy as he enters his first student disco deserves a prize just in itself. The film slightly muffs the climax - where was Brian's chastening Quiz Show moment? - but Nicholls and director Tom Vaughan do an otherwise excellent job. It almost makes you think well of students.

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