1st Night: Film Review

Familiar plotting and sitcom-style humor derail this opera-themed comedy.

Romantic entanglements threaten to derail an opera production in Christopher Menaul's farcical comedy.

Representing a sort of younger, sexier variation on the recent Quartet, Christopher Menaul’s 1st Night once again features eccentric characters singing opera in a bucolic setting while dealing with various interpersonal conflicts. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much where the similarities end, as this farcical romantic comedy lacks the charm and star power to compensate for its contrived plotting and only mildly amusing situations.

The plot concerns the efforts of rich industrialist Adam (Richard E. Grant) to stage an outdoor production of Mozart’s classic Cosi Fan tutte on the ground of his palatial country estate, with himself playing a starring role. He also hopes to spark a romance with Celia (Sarah Brightman), the beautiful conductor he’s hired for the occasion.

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Among those he’s recruited for the production are the singers Nicoletta (Mia Maestro) and Tom (Julian Ovenden), whose burgeoning romance is prompted by a less than honorable wager between Adam and Tom that conveniently apes a major plot element in Mozart’s opera. Further romantic complications are provided in the form of the undersexed relationship between the opera’s director Philip (Oliver Dimsdale) and his singer wife Tamsin (Emma Williams), with Philip showing a distinct interest in one of the company’s male performers.

These and several other subplots in the screenplay by Menaul and Jeremy Sams strike heavily predictable notes. Opera lovers will find some compensation in the form of generous excerpts from Cosi Fan Tutte as seen in the often chaotic rehearsals and featuring extensive dubbing of the largely non-singing cast.

Grant, always a welcome amusingly off-kilter screen presence, scores some laughs, and the gorgeous Maestro and Ovenden make a handsome screen couple. But their efforts are undercut by the thinness of the familiar-feeling material which rarely rises above sitcom level.

(Gravitas Ventures)
Production: Scorpio Films
Cast: Richard E. Grant, Sarah Brightman, Mia Maestro, Julian Ovenden, Oliver Dimsdale, Susannah Fielding, Nigel Lindsay, Emma Williams
Director: Chrisopher Menaul
Screenwriters: Christopher Menaul, Jeremy Sams
Producers: Stephen Evans, Selwyn Roberts
Executive producer: Simon Crowe
Director of photography: Tim Palmer
Editor: St. John O’Rorke
Production designer: Stuart Walker
Costume designer: Phoebe De Gaye
Not rated, 105 min.