Monday, April 09, 2012

peter's friends 20 years later

Spoilers abound, as I want to discuss some major plot points that have been affected by the passing of the years.

Peter's Friends has been dubbed a "British Big Chill." I have never actually seen that movie, but I guess the ensemble of stars playing friends, the nostalgic soundtrack, and the interpersonal dramas, make them similar. The friends in Peter's Friends are played by real-life friends. The movie was directed by Kenneth Branagh, who plays Andrew, and was married at the time to Emma Thompson, who plays Maggie. Thompson's old school chums play ... old school chums (they were all once members of the Cambridge Footlights): Stephen Fry (Peter), Hugh Laurie (who American audience know and love as House, M.D., plays Roger), Tony Slattery (Brian). Thompson's mother Phyllida Law plays Peter's housekeeper Vera. The cast is rounded out by Imelda Staunton, a frequent co-star of Thompson's (Sense and Sensibility, Nanny McPhee), Alex Lowe, who plays Vera's son, and Rita Rudner, who co-wrote the script with her husband Matin Bregman, who was also a member of the Cambridge Footlights.

Clockwise from L: Rita Rudner, Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry, Imelda Staunton, Hugh Laurie, Phyllida Law, Tony Slattery, Alphonsia Emmanuel, Alex Lowe 
All of the nepotism aside, Peter's Friends desires to be a bit more than it is, which is a bunch of old friends spending a weekend at a fabulous country estate owned by Peter. The friends have lost touch since college, but get together for New Year's, where they will fight, divulge secrets, and have lots of sex. It is hinted throughout the film that Peter is gay — through some comic and unsuccessful attempts at seduction by the extremely single Maggie, and by some sheepish exchanges that Peter has with his housekeeper. But the big reveal comes near the end of the film, when right before the stroke of midnight, Peter, fed up with all of the in-fighting that has come to a head over the weekend, informs his friends that he is HIV positive, banishing all of their bickering and replacing it with a deadly silence.

The reaction of his friends is quite dramatic, and shows how much has changed in twenty years. Not that an HIV diagnosis is not a serious thing for anyone and their loved ones still to deal with, but I was surprised at all of the looks on the actors faces as they took in Peter's news, clearly feeling that he had announced his imminent death. If this movie were to be made today, Peter's news might still come as somewhat of a surprise to his friends, but more because they were all so self-absorbed and had no idea what his life was really about rather than his prognosis, which would be generally more hopeful.

Peter's Friends isn't really a good movie. It wasn't even when it came out in 1992. But it is entertaining, even funny at times. It is interesting to see this group of actors together, and to see how attitudes have changed in two decades.
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