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‘An Awfully Big Adventure’

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 15, 1995


Mike Newell
Hugh Grant;
Georgina Cates;
Alan Rickman;
Peter Firth
sexuality, nudity and profanity

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Faded divas and has-been heartthrobs tread the creaking boards of a shabby Liverpool theater with hauteur worthy of their London betters in director Mike Newell's "An Awfully Big Adventure." This bitter backstage tragicomedy reunites Newell and Hugh Grant of "Four Weddings and a Funeral," but it focuses on 16-year-old Stella (Georgina Cates), a star-struck apprentice dazzled by this newfound never-never land.

Based on Beryl Bainbridge's post-World War II novel, this offbeat tale takes its title from a line in "Peter Pan," the perennial finale of the company's winter season. Stella, who never knew her father and was abandoned by her unwed mother, is clearly one of the world's lost children, never mind her blooming sensuality. The allusions to the escapist children's play are many, but hardly endearing.

While she develops a fierce crush on the company's gay director (Grant), it's the troupe's Captain Hook who seduces the willing Stella. It's no coincidence that the same dashing actor, P.L. O'Hara (Alan Rickman), also plays Mr. Darling—an allusion to the film's perverse outcome. In remaining too faithful to Bainbridge's novel, screenwriter Charles Wood sabotages the movie; he never really prepares viewers for this Freudian turn.

Though he plays a hopeless cad, Rickman gives the most sympathetic performance, not because he's the film's most tragic figure or its sexiest, but because he is its most fully formed. His O'Hara seems utterly bewildered by his obsession with Cates's achingly innocent yet uncannily observant Stella. Grant is also deliciously vile as a monocle-wearing snot, and there are a number of other fine supporting players, especially Peter Firth as the troupe's put-upon stage manager.

Don't expect the froth of "Four Weddings and a Funeral" from this film. "An Awfully Big Adventure" has far more in common with Newell's darker tales of obsession ("The Good Father" and "Dance With a Stranger"). Even Tinker Bell dies.

An Awfully Big Adventure is rated R for sexuality, nudity and profanity.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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