For many of us, Richard E. Grant will forever be Withnail (Withnail and I, 1986), a character that brought his sharp comic timing and plumy sense of outrage fully to the fore. He has of course been busy ever since, but sadly has yet to recapture the spark of that tortured creation. Given the affection consistently shown for alcoholic thespian Withnail, it is hardly surprising that many consider it to be a once in a lifetime role and performance.
Well, whatever else it may be, the character of Adam in woeful opera world meets vanity project rom-com First Night does not come close to providing Grant with the chance to be able to scale those heights again.
Focusing on mega-wealthy businessman Adam’s attempts to impress his friends and associates with his cultural knowledge, First Night follows the frustrated amateur opera singer’s attempts to stage Mozart’s opera Cosi Fan Tutte in the grounds of his country estate. Helping him in this incredibly trivial exercise is Sarah Brightman’s (yes, that Sarah Brightman) Celia, a conductor with seemingly zero internal life or any motivation other than to smile at Adam. Brightman’s visage – particularly her eyes, with the permanently surprised look of the Botox fan – is truly a sight to behold, and may well be the most entertaining element of the entire film.
Joining the leading pair are a rag tag bunch of musicians and drama queens, most of them seeming to take the plot of amateur production a little too literally. Of these extraneous characters, most are forgettable, but a storyline involving the young director of the piece suddenly realising he is gay (presumably dreamt up as a ‘humorous’ plot device) manages to simultaneously bore and irritate, and the construction remains thoroughly unsympathetic.
After a bizarrely slow start, a flash of gratuitous nudity and a smattering of class obsessed gags and a touch of slap-stick, it soon becomes clear that we’re in British seaside postcard territory. All the clichés of the privileged make an appearance, from horse riding, opera, stately homes, servants and stern housekeeper (Eastenders’ Tessa Peake-Jones).
After a thoroughly overlong running time nearing two hours, the only really amusing thing about this lacklustre offering is that there were people involved who thought that the idea of a rich industrialist presenting an opera in his estate would garner an appreciative audience in recession hit, austerity afflicted Britain. Of course, if it was, you know, any good, it might have helped! One to avoid.
Released on DVD September 2012 | Review by Robert W Monk