Peter's Friends Kenneth Branagh

Peter's Friends Kenneth Branagh
Since it first came out in 1992, I have had a tempestuous relationship with Peter’s Friends, a pathetic saga of unrealistic expectations, dashed hopes and "we’re just at different stages in our lives” regret. And I never learn. It looked so good on paper, though! An ensemble cast featuring England’s funniest, tweediest young actors: Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson still blissfully wed; Hugh Laurie before he was House; Imelda Staunton before she was a Death Eater; Stephen Fry before he was the narrator of Pocoyo. And they were all going to spend New Year’s Eve at a stately home, reminiscing about their Cambridge days, revelling in their fabulous, artsy/intellectual careers! It was going to be better than The Big Chill. Well, not quite. So close, but no. Fabulous performances (and a really pretty house) couldn’t mask the hackneyed plot, the self-satisfied little comic turns, the hokey ’80s music. The "twist” at the ending when Peter (Fry) reveals why he has invited them there (spoiler: he’s HIV-positive) was as predictable a cliché at the time as the revelation of abuse in a novel would be a few years later. But I wanted so much to love this movie, so I watched it again when it turned up on TV. I rented it, surreptitiously, at the video store. And it always ended in exasperation: why were they all so fey, so self-consciously quirky? And why did I keep going back? Of course, the DVD release is no better. Although I (ahem) seem to have gotten a bit older over the past 16 years and now see that while it’s a not bad depiction of old friends growing apart and coming to terms with how their lives have turned out, it’s still pretty precious, silly stuff and not worthy of such an excellent cast. What I would love to watch is a "making of” or listen to a Branagh commentary, so the lack of extras is a real shame. (MGM)