'Big Adventure' is acerbic, funny and fogbound

October 06, 1995|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

Guaranteed literal dialogue from "An Awfully Big Adventure":

"Eh? Hos gwinne dwan, mite?"

"Euwww, noffinx. Me dwags dwan't gribe, effo."

That's because the movie is in real English -- the English of the British Isles -- rather than in that fictitious, bell-clear movie language known as Middle-Atlantic, constructed to be intelligible the colonies.

Thus "An Awfully Big Adventure" seems to play as if through a fog, about a third of it knowable, the rest merely to be taken on faith. It may be too much.

The film, starring an awfully good cast of Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman, follows as a rag-tag theater company in the Liverpool of the late '40s tries to get through a season on the boards, as seen from the point of view of the naive newcomer to the troupe, a young working class girl who signs on as Girl Friday to the director.

The theme seems to be the danger of innocence. Stella, played by Georgina Cates, conceives a crush on Meredith Potter (Grant), the director, and works to sabotage his relationship with his girlfriend. Alas, Stella isn't sophisticated enough to see what's really going on, and thus her plottings don't merely destroy a romance but several lives as well.

Still, most of the film is an affectionate look at the backstage shenanigans of a threadbare theatrical company that is sustained as much by its illusions and neuroses as by its box office. These boys and girls, when you can understand them, have given up their lives to the smell of grease paint, the roar of the crowd; and they live lives totally isolated from society at large, totally absorbed with their own culture. They're all children, except (or especially) those in their 30s and 40s.

But when the star has to be replaced in midseason, and a haughty newcomer, P. L. O'Hara (Rickman) blows in, the delicate equipoise of ego and effort will definitely be upset and have to resettle in a complex new variation.

Directed by Mike Newell (who directed Grant in "Four Weddings and a Funeral") from what must have been an acerbic novel by Beryl Bainbridge, the film is both affectionate and astringent. It seems constructed to express that old theatrical dictum -- all's well that ends poorly.

'An Awfully Big Adventure'

/%Starring Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman

Directed by Mike Newell

Released by Fine Line

Rated R (nudity, adult themes)

** 1/2

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