Peter’s Friends‘s mix of comedy, drama and a babble of brilliant British thesps works surprisingly well considering the lack of structure in the story that unfolds. Reuniting and reminiscing ten years after attending university, Peter (Stephen Fry) and his friends have to come to terms with the changes their lives have (or haven’t) endured as well as confronting new challenges posed by the weekend. Relationships (both old and very new) are tested whilst no-one is quite prepared for Peter’s shock announcement made as they see the new year in.
You may get the feeling that the actors weren’t particularly challenged with the roles they were given as they slip into their characters easily (with Peter being a foppish homosexual and Emma Thompson’s Maggie being a scattered all-encompassing woman), giving the film an almost auto-biographical feel. Not that that’s such a bad thing – the chumminess between real-life friends Laurie, Fry and Thompson is so realistic that you may begin to feel like you’ve been invited along to the party too and have known them as long as they’ve known each other. Considering the age of the film, the actors don’t appear to have aged, giving the film a sense of timelessness, a sense that if you were to collect them all together again you’d be met with the same gaggle of thirty-somethings.
As well as appearing as Andrew who shares a troubled marriage with Carol (Rita Rudner, who interestingly wrote the screenplay for Peter’s Friends in five days), Kenneth Brannagh does well in the directing chair. The friendly jokes run smoothly enough but one of the film’s downfalls is that it sometimes feels like a stage play – perhaps partly due to the actors histories or as a throwback to their character’s past on the stage.
The characters in Peter’s Friends are all exaggerated stereotypes of the guests you find at all parties – the witty one (Fry), the lovesick one (Thompson), the loved-up one (Alphonsia Emmanuel as Sarah) and the annoying plus one (Tom Slattery as Brian), but it is Imelda Staunton’s turn as the neurotic mother Mary who shines most. Although her instant dismissal of her motherly worries is a little abrupt, her fragility is not only believable but also moving. Tensions fray as uncomfortable truths come to light for the group and it is this which gives the film its momentum. Peter’s shock news provides Peter’s Friends with its (rather imposing) moral and brings the friends back together.
Peter’s Friends may end abruptly but it provides a brief glimpse of the intricate life led by Peter and his friends and the futility of pretence between best friends.
Best line: Maggie – ‘Just take the fucking presents!’
Best performance: Staunton, Thompson and Fry all excel.
Best song: The soundtrack is great, if a little misplaced at times, and highlights include Simone’s My Baby Just Cares For Me and Queen’s You’re My Best Friend.