1 August 2022

Falling for Figaro is light, lovely and lyrical

| Marcus Kelson
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two women singing

Joanna Lumley and Australian Danielle McDonald star in Falling for Figaro. Photo: Supplied.

When any reviewer comes at assessing the music, art, film, dance or whatever they’re covering, it’s usually approached from an interested but dispassionate view of the work. It’s just how these things operate.

But on Saturday morning when I took myself off to see Falling for Figaro, my entire life came flooding back into perspective. I grew up around opera music, my father’s first love, and I have his music collection of all ten thousand records and then some.

My father Brendon Kelson, a former Director of the Australian War Memorial, died from cancer in March this year, and as soon as I began watching this wonderful film, the tears flowed often and generously.

Millie Cantwell (Australia’s Danielle McDonald) is a successful American fund manager in London, but has always wanted to sing opera.

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Her boyfriend Charlie (Shadad Latif) seems nonplussed by the idea, but through a friend finds a former English diva and now semi-retired teacher living in Scotland, the acidic Meghan Geoffrey-Bishop (Joanna Lumley). Millie secures an audition.

On arrival she encounters the moody Max, (Hugh Skinner) another student and cook at the local pub, The Dirty Pig. Millie has decided she needs a year to find her operatic voice and this is her aim.

She isn’t expecting the acerbic and dismissive Geoffrey-Bishop nor a rival in the form of Max, who has been training under her for five years. But Millie is here to learn, and both students want to compete at the Singer of Renown competition in London.

In essence the story of the film is not uncommon. The story of someone giving up their career for a possible sea change and having to battle with all their will to do so is well known enough. Falling for Figaro is a gentle, light touch on the theme; other reviewers may say too light but I think the general chemistry is just about perfect.

And the music – Millie is put through her paces with a variety of classics from the 18th and 19th centuries, while Max needs to nail down Figaro’s aria from Rossini’s comic opera The Barber of Seville.

Both students struggle with the passion versus the technicality of the music, but by the time the competition is in full swing, they have both embraced the beauty of their craft, and a little bit of the beauty of each other (you need to see the film for that story).

Lumley, now 76, embraces her role with gusto. In Geoffrey-Bishop, Joanna found someone she cared to explore. “I liked the idea that she was a bit of a bitch but she’d been made more savage by her circumstances,” she says.

“She had been successful, she’d had a good career, but for some reason, which we never know, it went wrong. And so, although she glimpsed the highlights, she faltered and fell at the last fence.”

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She sees in both her students perhaps the singer she should have been, so once the ice melts there is considerable investment. Both young actors take on their roles with great depth and commitment – excellent performances all round.

The film was written and directed by Australian Ben Lewin, (with Allen Palmer) and filmed in Scotland with post production in Australia. However the entire enterprise feels Scottish, circling around the pub and its enigmatic owner, Ramsey Macfadyen (Gary Lewis).

Falling for Figaro won’t change anyone’s mind about music or ambition but as a delightful comedic romp it should be applauded. The only thing missing from this session was sitting next to dad and discussing Rossini and Mozart. He would have loved every minute of it … three out of five Haggises.

Falling for Figaro is currently showing at the Dendy, Palace Electric and Hoyts Belconnen.

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