the review site with a difference since 1999
Reviews Interviews Articles Apps About

New Line Home Cinema presents

An Awfully Big Adventure (1995)

"Good evening. My name is Stella Bradshaw. I don't expect you'll ever want to love me."- Stella Bradshaw (Georgina Cates)

Stars: Georgina Cates, Alan Rickman, Hugh Grant
Other Stars: Peter Firth, Alun Armstrong, Prunella Scales, Alan Cox, Rita Tushingham, Edward Petherbridge, Clive Merrison
Director: Mike Newell

MPAA Rating: R for sexuality and some language
Run Time: 01h:52m:20s
Release Date: 2005-04-19
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-A-B+ D-


DVD Review

I want to say at the outset that I really love this film, but we need to talk about the way it's marketed.

I'm used to seeing cover blurbs try and sell a film as something it isn't, but I don't think I've seen such a jarringly discordant example as with the release of 1995s An Awfully Big Adventure from director Mike Newell. The title, well, that's more than a tad misleading right off the bat, but it comes from the book by Beryl Bainbridge so I suppose there isn't much that can be done about that. There is a double meaning to it, but it immediately makes this sound like a light, happy little tale.

The cover touts Newell as the man who made Four Weddings And A Funeral, making the connective link to Hugh Grant, who stars in this one, and theoretically implying these are similar films. Likewise with the tagline calling this a "revealing comedy," or the backcover splash about it being a "warmhearted comedy." I don't what was in the crack pipes of the folks who wrote that stuff, but this film is certainly about as far removed from "warmhearted" as it can get.

In reality, An Awfully Big Adventure is a brutally dark coming-of-age film about Stella Bradshaw (Georgina Cates), a naïve 16-year-old girl in 1947 Liverpool who lands a backstage job in a local repertory company. She secretly develops a doomed crush on director Meredith Potter (Hugh Grant), an acid-tongued artiste, and she eventually lands in the romantic path of another older man, legendary stage actor P.L. O'Hara (Alan Rickman), who has rejoined the troupe to reprise his role of Captain Hook in a production of Peter Pan.

For the first 40 minutes or so, Newell's film does seem like it could be a "warmhearted comedy", or at least sort of. Georgina Cates, perfectly cast as the pie-eyed Stella, dominates things as a wonderfully innocent young girl on the brink of womanhood, thrust willingly into a hardened theater group where she discovers what she thinks is true love. Cates' performance is just exceptional all the way around, and when the story suddenly moves into less warmhearted areas—such as when she is forced to use her hand sexually on a lecherous theater critic in a darkened movie theater—she continues to instill Stella with a boundlessly innocent enthusiasm, even as bad things happen around her.

Things only get worse for Stella and the others, and that's where the "warmhearted" stuff ends rather abruptly. As Potter, Grant goes against grain as an wholly unlikable cad, a fey and selfish man indifferent to the lives he destroys, while the always watchable Rickman's oversexed O'Hara is a man of few words who only seems to come alive when he is onstage, or racing about town on his motorcycle.

By the time the story shifts from being a traditional coming-of-age story just about Stella, and plummets into dark drama balanced appropriately against a Peter Pan subtext, it's clear that the bloom of innocence has been completely erased.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: New Line's 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is another in a long string of impressive ones, especially for a 10-year-old film. No substantial compression problems, and the print is free of any nicks or specking. Colors and contrast are spot on, though detail is a bit soft throughout.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: New Line always does a better than average job with audio, and they offer a wealth of choices here, including DTS. It's a bit of overkill, but I appreciate the effort, but with much of this being a front-centric drama, there isn't much opportunity to showcase the potential of DTS. Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 surround tracks are also included, all of which deliver clean dialogue, even with the thick accents of many of the supporting players.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+ 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Grass Harp, Widow's Peak, Even Cowgirls Get The Blues
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: No extras other than some trailers, while the disc itself is cut into 28 chapters.

Extras Grade: D-

Final Comments

This is a terrific film from Mike Newell, but don't be fooled by all that "warmhearted" stuff on the cover. It moves in weird, unforeseen directions, but the performances are all outstanding, and the transfer is gorgeous.

Highly recommended.

Rich Rosell 2005-04-18