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Peter's Friends Review

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A university comedy group, ten year on, attend a Christmas reunion

★★★★

Given those involved, Peter's Friend's introduces itself as a love-it-or-shove-it state of affairs. Thankfully, appearances can be deceptive.

Ten years on from their final performance, six ex-members of a university comedy revue gather to celebrate New Year's Eve at an ancestral pile belonging to Peter (Fry). Although they're all successful - now comprising a jingles-writing couple, a costume designer, a publisher, a Hollywood screenwriter and Peter, Lord Melton - the intervening decade has, for highly individual reasons, left them emotional cripples. Thus, once the reunion euphoria is out of the way, frustrations, repressions and all manner of personal problems seep through.

So far so Big Chill, but what lifts the film is the strength of the script (by Rita Rudner), the characterisation and the playing. Everybody's bonkers, but accessibly so: the dry underplaying (yes, even Emma Thompson) appreciates the situation's ludicrousness, and the screenplay never forgets that it is supposed to be funny. Nothing much happens, but not a minute is wasted, right from the squirm-worthy opening of the revue's last show to the highly unexpected conclusion.

Worth it by themselves are Slattery's slobbish outsider; Laurie's grumpy ad man; Rudner's turn as Branagh's unbearably preening US sitcom star wife; and Fry's shambling young fogey who limits conversation to awkward Prince Charles-ish one-liners. Most satisfying of all, though, is Kenneth Branagh seeming to send himself up as Andrew, an expatriate making a fortune by selling ropy scripts to Hollywood.

Less smug than you'd expect, thanks to a sparky script from Rita Rudner.

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