Hugh Grant had the right instinct, re-upping with director Mike Newell on An Awfully Big Adventure immediately after the two had completed Four Weddings and a Funeral. This dank and grotty story by Charles Wood, based on British author Beryl Bainbridge’s 1990 novel about a small repertory theater in post-WWII Liverpool (Bullets Over the Mersey?), was a chance for Grant to do what I suspect Grant loves to do best — on stage and off: play a heel. In Adventure, he’s Meredith Potter, the manipulative, coddled (and, for those keeping count of such things on Grant’s resume, homosexual) manager-actor-director of a troupe that spends a lot of time mounting productions of Peter Pan.
Potter’s a rotter, and his face in repose sustains a wonderfully sadistic hauteur. Unfortunately, this wet woolen of a film has relatively little to do with the guy. Really, it’s about Stella Bradshaw (newcomer Georgina Cates), a young, stagestruck odd duck who gets a job as an assistant stage manager and goes gaga for Potter — that’s how naive she is. (Cates looks as bovine and moony as Lena Headey did in The Summer House, without Headey’s hint of bloom beneath the pallor.) And the story is also about P.L. O’Hara (Alan Rickman), the company’s dashing, motorcycle-riding leading man — their Captain Hook — who is aroused by Stella’s scent of virginity and turns out to have some major secrets behind his intense brow.
Seedy-sexy Rickman — who outruns Grant in charisma, just as he effortlessly vaulted over Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves — is the most interesting thing going in this unwieldy muddle, which is much closer in tone to the subterranean dangers of Newell’s Dance With a Stranger than to the al fresco charms of his Enchanted April. There’s a creepy allure (a Rickman specialty) to O’Hara, and it is his energy that moves the story along to its unsettling surprise ending. But what of Stella? That’s a good question. It’s her adventure, after all (the title deceptively suggests innocent fun, but in fact she loses that innocence), yet the adventuress is such a passive participant that it’s sometimes easy to forget about her, what with Rickman brooding and Grant swanning about. This, to me, is an awfully big problem. C