Thanks to Covid, Perth plays host to international film director and producer

Hugh Skinner, Danielle Macdonald and Ben Lewin
Hugh Skinner, Danielle McDonald and Ben Lewin

It is likely that Perth audiences will see a new romantic comedy film, Falling For Figaro before one of its stars, Joanna Lumley, gets to see the film.

Director Ben Lewin, currently living in Perth with his wife, producer Judi Levine, says Covid has robbed cast and crew of their normal opportunity to sit down and watch the film together.

“I’m not sure if Joanna has actually seen the film,” Ben says.

He and Judi will be sitting down with Perth audiences at the Luna Cinema in Leederville on Monday, 8 November to participate in an audience Q&A as part of the British Film Festival which runs in Perth to 1 December.

Ben’s credits include his award-winning feature film The
, a moving true-life story based on the sexual awakening of Berkeley-based poet and journalist Mark O’Brien who spent most of his life in an iron lung. 

Falling For Figaro, a romantic comedy set in the fierce world of opera singing competitions, stars Danielle Macdonald (Dumplin’, Patti Cake$, Skin) and Joanna Lumley (Me Before You, The Wolf of Wall Street, Absolutely Fabulous).

Millie (Macdonald) is a brilliant young fund manager, who decides to leave her unfulfilling job and long-term boyfriend behind to chase her lifelong dream of becoming an opera singer in the Scottish Highlands.

She begins intense vocal training lessons with renowned but fearsome singing teacher and former opera diva Meghan Geoffrey-Bishop (Lumley), where she meets Max (Hugh Skinner, Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again), another of Meghan’s students who is also training for the upcoming Singer of Renown contest.

Residents of Los Angeles for the last 30 years, Ben and Judi are living in Perth, courtesy of a film, How to Please a Woman starring Sally Phillips, Erik Thomson and Cameron Daddo, being made here and due for release early next year.

Judi arrived in Perth in February and she was joined by Ben in August. He has been writing for a new project the couple are hoping to make next year.

“It’s been terrific for me, I have a history with Perth. My family on both sides came through Perth on their way to Melbourne and I have a grandfather buried in Karrakatta Cemetery and some cousins here,” says Judi, who hasn’t been to Perth since she was around 10 years old.

The pair were in Scotland for the making of Falling for Figaro from September 2019, but they’ve been involved in projects all over the world.

Judi says the couple loved their five months in Scotland, although Ben says it was very cold shooting through the winter, with most of the filming taking place around Loch Lomond.

Falling for Figaro revolves entirely around opera, a subject Ben says he found a little daunting initially, coming to the production as not a great lover of opera.

But by the end of the film, not only he, but the crew, were all humming operatic arias.

“My initial feeling about opera was that it was something when I was a young guy in London in my twenties that I couldn’t afford to see. It was this elitist thing like polo or something like that,” he says.

“I kind of resented it in a way, but the truth is, the film is not really so much about opera as it is about music.

“I’ve always had a love affair with music of one sort or another and certainly classical music. I listen to a lot of music when I’m writing anyway and so I just focused on opera and really teased out of it the opera that I liked.

“I realised I didn’t like Wagner and for me there was a real crossover between opera and pop music. There’s one track in there that’s a classical piece, but if you listen to it carefully it’s Elvis I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You.

“It was fun watching the crew get engaged with the opera, which I hadn’t anticipated.”

Joanna Lumley is married to opera director Stephen Barlow, so she was well versed in the world of opera through him.

Joanna Lumley and Danielle MacDonald
Joanna Lumley and Danielle MacDonald

“Working with Joanna is delightful, she’s very much a team player, doesn’t behave like a diva at all, everyone really adored her and she went with the flow.

“I really enjoyed working with her as a comedian, watching her timing and the subtlety of her reactions, she’s a very skilled comedian, but also the emotional moments.

“There’s one particular shot where they are singing their duet for her. I decided at one stage in editing that I’d really plan the scene on her, not so much about them singing, but about how she reacted to it.

“It really amazed me how she could sustain the one shot with very little going on, but you could really sense the emotional depth of her reaction.”

Ben and Judi are looking forward to the Q&A at Luna and Ben says he loves being thrown curly questions.

Because of Covid it’s been a while since they’ve done a Q&A.

“You hope that someone is going to ask you a question out of left field, that is going to be a bit provocative,” Ben says.

“The best Q&A we ever did was in San Francisco and this man at the back in this big cinema got up and announced that he was the father of the girl that our son was dating and I thought that was one that I wasn’t expecting.”

Falling for Figaro screens as part of the British Film Festival (3 November – 1 December). Luna Leederville
hosts a Q&A with Ben Lewin and Judi Levine on Monday 8 November, see for details.