Awfully Big Adventure, An (1995): Mike Newell’s Coming of Age Tale, Starring Hugh Grant as Homosexual Theater Director (Gay Cinema)

Rising British star Hugh Grant and director Mike Newell again join forces in An Awfully Big Adventure, a disappointing follow-up to their smash comedy hit, “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” which was nominated for the 1994 Best Picture Oscar.

As scripted by Charles Wood, based on Beryl Bainbridge’s well-received novel of the same title, “Awfully Big Adventure” is a dour coming-of age story set amid a small-time theatrical company in post WWII Liverpool.

The title is an ironic reference to the Peter Pan story, in which Peter says, “To die will be an awfully big adventure.”

The story concerns a teenage girl who joins a local repertory theatre troupe in Liverpool. During a production of Peter Pan, the play turns into a dark metaphor for youth as she becomes drawn into a web of sexual politics and intrigues.

Inconsistent in tone, the film offers a bitter-sweet view of the irresponsible and occasionally corruptive behavior of adult members toward their young and still idealistic protgs.

In a change of pace, Hugh Grant plays a capricious, insensitive homosexual stage director who seems to enjoy tormenting his troupe members.

In this picture, we get a glimpse at the backstage backbiting, old actors’ whims and antics, and so on.

Consciously or unconsciously, movies about life in the theater, no matter how critical they are of that life, almost always end up as valentines to showbiz as an institution and life style, a possible reflection of the talent involved.

It’s almost hard to believe that Charles Wood is the same scribe who co-wrote the Beatles upbeat “Help!” the cult movie that Richard Lester had directed in 1965. I have not read the source material and thus cannot comment on the degree of accuracy in its transfer from page to screen.

Despite narrative shortcomings and incoherent mood, the film benefits from its uniformly strong cast, headed by Grant and including such pros as Alan Rickman, Georgian Cates, Rita (“The Knack”) Tushingham, Peter (“Equus”) Firth, Alan Cox, and others.

Production values, particularly lensing by Dick Pope (known for his superb work for Mike Leigh), enhance the authentic feel for the era in which the saga is set.


If your are interested in knowing more about gay directors and gay films, please read my book:

Gay Directors, Gay Films? By Emanuel Levy (Columbia University Press, hardcover and paperback).