This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 18th March 2012
First Night is a frustrating cocktail of sublime classical music set in a stunning country home diluted by over-the-top acting and a few clichés rammed onto a toothpick.
Richard E. Grant (here more Spice Girls Movie than Withnail & I) plays a rich industrialist who has always dreamed of staging the opera Cosi Fan Tutte, in order to sing the Don Alfonso role with a professional cast. Money opens doors, flattery will get you everywhere, and pretty soon he’s assembling a cast of enthusiasts, including a wraith-like Sarah Brightman who is employed not to sing, but to flex her conducting muscle. Looking like a character from an animated Tim Burton movie, Brightman hams it up more like she’s on stage than in a movie, but clearly director Christopher Menaul, freshly released from a long career in very serious TV, has cut a bit loose with his second ever feature film.
As the rest of the cast of bright young musical things descend on the house à la Gosford Park, one swiftly hopes there may be murder on their minds. But instead there is inevitably much eager-beaver running about, misinterpreted romantic entanglements (the plot loosely follows Cosi’s narrative) and, in the midst of all the nonsense, some absolutely sensational singing. Like a high school production, there are star moments that may take your breath away, then you’ll be laughing again at the limp script or scowling at the banal characterisation of the attractive “rebel” who (of course) sports a tattoo and a very short skirt.
But, just as you tire of the overacting, they pump out another burst of exquisite Mozart and win you over again. You shouldn’t be able to save a lame movie by exploiting Wolfgang’s genius, but by golly you’ll be glad they can.