An Awfully Big Adventure (1995) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)


Director Mike Newell and star Hugh Grant has quite a solid international hit in 1994 with Four Weddings and Funeral, so they immediately attempted to recapture their chemistry with another film in 1995. This one. Unfortunately, their collaboration was missing an integral element, the talented author of Four Weddings, Richard Curtis, who is one of the most successful screenwriters in modern British history, having written or co-written the Bridget Jones films, Notting Hill, Love Actually, and most of the Blackadder series. Instead of one of Curtis's light romances, Grant and Newell selected a dark, cynical and profoundly gloomy drama. Probably the wrong choice.

When it comes to coming-of-age films, the difference between comedy and tragedy is only a matter of shading. Both are about the loss of innocence, and that is inherently sad in some inevitable ways, but the distinction between them lies in the way the innocence is lost and the degree to which one may some day view its loss with fondness. An Awfully Big Adventure is not about the mere loss of innocence, but its utter destruction. Two students, one of each gender, take internships at a theater company in Liverpool after the war. They will both learn of the world's cruelties before the theater season is over. The 16-year-old girl will lose her virginity to the fading leading man. The boy will lose his to the company's cruel, arrogant director.

You think that sounds depressing? It gets worse. The leading man has only returned to the tiny provincial theater to allow himself a chance to look for the true love of his life, whom he romanced and lost there many years before, and the son he believes they had together. Are you sitting down? He doesn't find the woman, but he does discover the identity of his child. It is not a son, but a daughter. Do I need to explain further?  When he discovers that his careless sexual escapades have made him not only a pedophile, but an incestuous one as well, he ... well, let's just say it keeps getting more and more dismal.

The boy's half of the story is not as thoroughly developed, but it isn't any cheerier. All of the atmospheric and characteristic details are profoundly depressing as well. The theater is run-down, the city outside its walls is bleak, all and the players are broken-down. After all, the entire story takes place in an impoverished theater group in Liverpool, so the players and crew are basically cast-offs: underpaid wannabes, alcoholic has-beens, and never-weres who take the abuse of the heartless director because they have no place else to go.

Cheery stuff. I don't agree with some of the low scores awarded by the critics. It isn't a bad movie, just an unpleasant one. The occasional attempts at humor often seem sadly inappropriate, making the film even more cheerless than if it had no humor at all.

I can't give you many good reasons to watch it. Hugh Grant is suitably despicable as the director, but his character seems utterly one-dimensional and full of tics. Alan Rickman is excellent, as he always is, and his forlorn actor would be a sympathetic character with only slight changes in the plot, but as it stands he's playing an incestuous pedophile, so it's difficult to feel that he got any worse than he deserved. The innocent girl is obviously damaged goods to begin with, and the theater world damages her still further, while shattering her dreams along with her innocence, so we should feel her pain, but even that is difficult given that (1) she is a very strange girl (2) the melodramatic situations are such blatant attempts to evoke sympathy that we expect her at any moment to get tied to a log and conveyed into the sawmill.


Well, I guess I could come up with one reason to watch it. How about Hugh Grant as Captain Hook? (Right)


Incidentally, although the entire film takes place in Liverpool, it was filmed entirely in Dublin, for reasons not known to me at this time.


More interesting than the film is the story of how Georgina Cates got the role of the 16-year-old Liverpudlian. Ya see, there is no such person as Georgina Cates. Her real name is Claire Woodgate, and at the time this film was cast, she was 20, and had long been a semi-famous juvenile BBC actress hailing from Essex. As herself, she auditioned for this role and was rejected. Refusing to take no for an answer, she went home, changed her appearance significantly, and created a new identity - the unknown Georgina Cates, an untrained and inexperienced 16 year old from Liverpool, complete with scouse accent. In essence, she created an actress who would have been perfect for the role without acting! She auditioned again and got the part. She did not admit the ruse until about halfway through the filming, at which point the tabloid press fell in love with her, but her fellow industry insiders were dismayed by behavior that they thought to be unprofessional.

Cates continued to march to her own drummer. Having alienated some key contacts in the British film world, she packed her bags and headed off to Hollywood, where she got some fairly good notices in Illuminata, and some great praise for Clay Pigeons. There's no doubt the girl can act. Hell, even her famous scam proved she could act. After all, she convinced the casting director that she was a 16 year old from Liverpool, and that's exactly what she had to do in the movie! The very fact that she got the job proved that she could do it well. So what has she done with her talent, and why have you not heard anything from her recently? She just turned her back on the whole thing. She has no acting credits at IMDb between 1999 and now. She married Skeet Ulrich, she had twins, and concentrated on her private life. She is now divorced from the Skeetmeister and her kids are grown and ready for kindergarten (they're 5 1/2 as I write this), so she plans to return to acting next year (2007). Even after 19 IMDb credits and an eight-year absence, she will only be 32 next year.



  • widescreen, anamorphically enhanced, but quite grainy



  • Georgina Cates - breasts

  • Carol Drinkwater - full frontal nudity

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus: two stars out of four. James Berardinelli 2/4, Roger Ebert 2/4.


The People Vote ...

  • Box Office Mojo. Never reaching more than 12 theaters, it grossed about a quarter of a million dollars.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

Our own guideline:

  • A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre.
  • B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. In order to rate at least a B-, a film should be both a critical and commercial success. Exceptions: (1) We will occasionally rate a film B- with good popular acceptance and bad reviews, if we believe the critics have severely underrated a film. (2) We may also assign a B- or better to a well-reviewed film which did not do well at the box office if we feel that the fault lay in the marketing of the film, and that the film might have been a hit if people had known about it. (Like, for example, The Waterdance.)
  • C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by people who enjoy this kind of movie. If this is your kind of movie, a C+ and an A are indistinguishable to you.
  • C means it is competent, but uninspired genre fare. People who like this kind of movie will think it satisfactory. Others probably will not.
  • C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie, but genre addicts find it watchable. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film, but films with this rating should be approached with caution by mainstream audiences, who may find them incompetent or repulsive or both. If this is NOT your kind of movie, a C- and an E are indistinguishable to you.
  • D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-. Films rated below C- generally have both bad reviews and poor popular acceptance.
  • E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre.
  • F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.


Based on this description, this film is a C-. So much talent. So little result. A profoundly dreary film for the "life sucks" crowd..

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