Circle Of Friends

1995, Movie, PG-13, 96 mins


CIRCLE OF FRIENDS is an old-fashioned romantic melodrama for sensitive teenaged girls, as well as grown women who are sentimental about their teen years (if there are any of either sort left these days).

In 1957, three close girlfriends are entering university in Dublin. Benny (Minnie Driver) is slightly overweight, jolly, and romantic. Nan (Saffron Burrows) is the beauty of the bunch, supremely self-confident and used to getting her way. Eve (Geraldine O'Rawe), an orphan, is a quiet shadow in the background. On the first day of classes, Benny meets Jack (Chris O'Donnell), a handsome rugby player, and is instantly smitten. Jack's no egotistical jock, and he is drawn to Benny's earthy charm. But the relationship is stymied by Benny's having to commute home each night to her small village of Knockglen. Nan becomes involved with Simon Westward (Colin Firth), an older landed aristocrat, who gets her pregnant and then blithely tosses her aside. She connives to get Jack drunk, seduces him and claims him as the father of her child. Benny, meanwhile, is at wit's end, contending with the lecherous advances of Sean (Alan Cummings), her father's sleazy shop assistant. She is forced to put on a brave face when she encounters Nan and Jack at a party, but watchful Eve catches Nan out and reveals her treachery. More evil doings are revealed when Benny discovers that slimy Sean has been bilking money out of the business. She and Jack are reunited to share their young love.

This unashamedly old-fashioned coming-of-age story is nothing new, but remains highly watchable nevertheless. Based on a novel by the popular Irish writer Maeve Binchy, it has a good feel for character and the guilt-ridden atmosphere of Catholic sexual repression which conventionally stifles youthful passion. The direction is sensible and straightforward, if not daringly cinematic, and gives full due to welling emotions. Period and place are lovingly recreated and handsomely photographed by Ken MacMillan's lens.

Driver, who delivers a piercingly subjective performance, is the linchpin of the film's quiet appeal. When told by Jack that he likes "solid girls," she quickly replies: "That's me: beef to the heels, like an Iyangar heifer." Her honesty can be almost painful: you tremble for her when she dons a too-revealing party frock (at bitchy Nan's behest) and die with her when an insensitive Jack seems to ignore her. In all, it's a wish-fulfillment triumph for every plain Jane who's ever desired a prince (a role in which the manly O'Donnell is perfectly cast). (Adult situations, sexual situations, profanity.) leave a comment

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