An awfully big Adventure

Not to be confused with the classic Pee Wee's Big Adventure. Of course, there is a touch of innocence and depravity in both films, but the similarity ends there. This one is the first offering from director Mike Newell and actor Hugh Grant after their successful collaboration on Four Weddings and a Funeral.

The charm of this film is not so much the rites-of-passage world surrounding young Stella (sensitively played by teenager Georgina Cates in her first major film role), but the enchanting atmosphere created by the striking entourage of film actors trapped in the post-war Liverpool theatre world. It certainly brought memories back to me (and I wasn't even there).

(I must admit I was taken aback when I saw Hugh Grant, Peter Firth, and Phoebe Cates heading away from Dublin Castle after lunch, turning onto Dame Street, moving toward the Olympia Theatre and still managing to wind up in Liverpool, but should also admit that even these obviously Irish locations seem exceptionally suitable to the setting Newell intended to create.)

Hugh Grant lends his own particular charm once again to a role deviously different from his previous film. Why is it that the world didn't take notice much earlier (e.g. after his stunning performance in Maurice almost ten years ago)? At least Venice showed some taste by awarding him, along with his co-star James Wilby (in an unprecedented move), the award for Best Actor at their Film Festival at that time.

Appearing halfway through the film is the pervading image of the third lead. What is this strange Svengali-like quality that Alan Rickman always manages to convey from the screen (even when he's playing nice guys? All I know is I can't wait to see his Mesmer (now being prepared for international release).

The rich weave of this story is built upon interrelationships of those whose lives are connected to the repertory company. Charles Wood has written a touching and fascinating screenplay from the Beryl Bainbridge novel. The film is humorous and enjoyable, but the viewer can sense that the comedy is dancing on a razor's edge. The all-star ensemble balances throughout with supreme craftsmanship. An enchanting and nostalgic film filled with cameos, some of which are large enough to be leads.

I doubt that this one will draw as many crowds as Four Weddings and a Funeral. Nevertheless, it is an exceptional piece of work.

Superb points for acting, directing, script, production design (Mark Geraghty), costumes (Joan Bergin) and photography (Dick Pope). What else do you need? A good producer always helps. So let's give a very special big hand to Hilary Heath, without whose steadfastness and perseverance the film might never have been realized.

© 1994-2006 The Green Hartnett