The high-profile cast of Laurent Tirard’s highly anticipated Asterix and Obelix: in Britain 3D — led by Gérard Depardieu, Edouard Baer and Catherine Deneuve — were out in force on Sunday afternoon for a packed, first public preview of the film at Paris’ iconic, 2,800-seat Grand Rex cinema.

“This role really made me put on weight,” quipped portly bon-viveur Depardieu who reprises the role of Asterix’ rotund best friend Obelix for a fourth time in the film, entitled Astérix et Obélix: Au Service de Sa Majesté in French.  “I’m more like Obelix than ever before.”

“It’s true, I watched Depardieu eating… well done Gérard for your efforts and throwing yourself so wholeheartedly into the role,” quipped back Baer, who plays Asterix.

Depardieu, Deneuve and Baer were joined on stage by most of the 20-strong ensemble cast, which also features Valérie Lemercier, Fabrice Luchini, Charlotte Le Bon, Jean Rochefort, Dany Boon and Bouli Lanners.

Producers Olivier Dubosc and Marc Missonnier of Fidélité Films told the audience that producing the ambitious, live action, 3D adaptation – with a price-tag in excess of €50m – had been “an intense adventure”.

“This is a particularly special important date for us because it’s exactly three years to the day – September 30, 2009 – that we premiered Little Nicolas (Le Petit Nicolas),” added Missonnier, referring to Tirard’s previous feature.

Inspired by Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo’s comic strip albums Asterix in Britain and Asterix and the Normans, Tirard’s adaptation follows the plucky Gaul and Obelix on a mission to help Ancient Britain stave-off a Roman invasion led by Julius Cesar.

After crossing the English Channel in a rowing boat, they head to swinging Londinium where they discover an obsessively polite people who grind to a halt at five o’clock every day for a cup of hot water.

They undergo a number of challenges such as drinking warm, frothy beer, eating the local delicacy of roast hog and mint sauce and navigating the labyrinthine code of British etiquette.

It’s worth seeing the film in its original version simply to hear the cream of France’s acting establishment– such as Deneuve as British Queen Cordelia – speaking French with impeccable Received Pronunciation English accents. (check out clip here)

“I’ve worked on 33 Asterix albums in total… for me this is the best adaptation ever,” commented Asterix creator and illustrator Uderzo, who also took to the stage on Sunday.

The star-studded matinee kicked off a series of preview screenings across France this week in the presence of the cast and crew ahead of the picture’s general release by Wild Bunch Distribution (WDB) in the middle of October.

“This is Wild Bunch Distribution’s biggest release ever… our aim is for it to do better than the previous Asterix films,” commented WBD managing director Jean-Philippe Tirel.

He is not leaving anything to chance. This Sunday (October 7), there will be another 500 preview screenings across the country before the film goes wide on October 17 in 800 theatres – in some cases on more than one screen.

The 1999 Asterix and Obelix vs. Cesar and 2002 Asterix and Obelix Meet Cleopatra attracted some 8.9 million and 14.5 million cinemagoers in France. The most recent adaptation, Asterix at the Olympic Games, achieved some 6.8 million admissions on its release at the beginning of 2008.

Alongside France, the picture is also due to hit some 20 European territories in October, including Benelux, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Portugal and Switzerland. Concorde will release it on 650 copies in Germany on October 18.

Central Partnership will release the film in Russia and CIS on some 800 copies on October 25. Other big releases include Spain by Tripictures on some 350 copies at the end of November. Lucky Red, which also co-produced, will release the film in Italy at the beginning of next year.

Wild Bunch, which also executive produced the film, has sold the picture into more than 30 territories to date but ironically has yet to seal a deal for the UK and Eire, where much of the film was shot.

Another red carpet, preview screening is due to take place this Saturday (Oct 6) at the Dinard British Film Festival in presence of the British industry delegation – it will be interesting to see if its their tasse de thé.