A group of actors and filmmakers set out to adapt an "unfilmable" classic novel -- but find that their own petty concerns get in the way -- in this satirical comedy. Laurence Sterne's 18th century novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman told the story of its priggish title character from the moment of conception onward, with a bevy of digressions, distractions, and unfinished anecdotes. In adapting the work for the screen, director Michael Winterbottom chose to stay true to its anarchic spirit: the film begins as a mostly straightforward adaptation of events in Sterne's writings, and then veers into a tale about the making of the film itself. Steve Coogan plays Tristram Shandy, who narrates his own life story, beginning with his slightly botched birth, overseen by an addled doctor (Dylan Moran) and his reticent father, Walter (also played by Coogan). Constantly quarreling with his battle-scarred brother, Toby (Rob Brydon), Walter Shandy has an epiphany when he holds his newborn son; however, before that moment can occur, the film switches into the present day, where Coogan and Brydon, playing themselves, bicker over costuming and the size of their roles in the film. The rest of the film's crew has their own concerns. Director Mark (Jeremy Northam) is trying to figure out how to secure a big Hollywood star for a supporting role and shoot a battle scene on a budget. The film's brainy production assistant Jennie (Naomie Harris) worries that their adaptation is leaving out the best parts of the book, as she nurses a crush on one of the cast members. All the while, Coogan tries to deflect a tabloid reporter's inquiry into his strip-club escapades, and attempts to pacify the concerns of his wife, Jenny (Kelly MacDonald). Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story had its North American premiere at the 2005 Toronto Film Festival.
by Michael Hastings synopsis