“It’s not about reality, it’s about style…feeling…”
For my birthday, the present of a DVD that contained Julian Ovenden whipping his shirt off in its opening moments and Nigel Lindsay putting the moves on Oliver Dimsdale promised much indeed but having watched it, I’m not so sure that First Night quite lives up to it. A 2010 British rom-com set in a Glyndebourne-like world of country-house opera, it flirts with catastrophe early on with the practically inexplicable decision to cast Sarah Brightman as a conductor whose wooden movements suggests not a musical bone in her body and whose leaden delivery of her lines is often cringe-worthy. But it slowly pulls itself together and in featuring more of the rest of the (much better) cast, it becomes a passable farcical romp which mildly entertains.
Richard E Grant plays Alex, a rich industrialist and frustrated opera singer (yes, another one…), who decides to mount a production of Mozart’s Così fan Tutte at his stately home to prove he is no stuffed shirt. Brightman plays the conductor he has his flirtatious eye on but the company of up and coming singers whom he recruits to sing for their supper seem more interested in getting their ends away as their antics become increasingly highly-sexed with a series of storylines designed to reflect those in the opera they are performing. Christopher Menaul and Jeremy Sams don’t quite get to such sophisticated heights with their script or plotting but the camp extravagance of the performances just about swings it around.
Ovenden’s Tom is a brash chancer seizing his opportunity to play the lead who, as is often the way, ends up in a wager to see if he can seduce his leading lady before opening night (a challenge given Mia Maestro’s rather obdurate Nicoletta). Oliver Dimsdale is the inexperienced director who is neglecting his singer wife, the lovely Emma Williams, as his attention is drawn to Nigel Lindsay’s handsomely swaggering Martin. And Grant seems to be having a whale of a time with an over-the-top level of gusto which fits in well. Hugh Ross’ camp costume director, Tessa Peake-Jones’ estate manager and Susannah Fielding’s Debbie keep the supporting performances at a fun level so if you ignore Brightman, it really isn’t too bad.
Menaul also directs and he does a lovely job of showing off his location of Manderston House – anyone with country houses for sale could do worse than getting him to film an advert for it – making it often gorgeous to look at, and the singing of Mozart’s arias is proficiently done. I’m certainly not above the vagaries of silly plotting but this will probably test you if the film doesn’t appeal to any of your interests. But if those interests coincide with those mentioned in the opening paragraph, there’s definitely some shallow pleasure to be had 😉