Picks and Pans Review: Peter's Friends

updated 01/18/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/18/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

Kenneth Branagh, Rita Rudner, Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Alphonsia Emmanuel

A British comedy-drama about a group of 30ish old friends gathering in England to celebrate their misspent youths, this often seems to be merely The Big Chill with an English accent and a penchant for the maudlin. But it has a unique warmth and a sly, insinuating (and, typical of the British, sex-obsessed) wit all its own. It is a drawing-room comedy for the 1990s.

Branagh, who directed, plays an expatriate playwright who has emigrated to the U.S. to become a TV writer. Branagh's real-life wife, Thompson, is a repressed self-help-book author whose search for an outlet for her sexuality provides a serious subplot. Emmanuel, meanwhile, is an actress whose libido is only too fulfilled.

Rudner, the ebullient stand-up comic, wrote the script with her husband, Martin Bergman; she plays a truncated part as a spoiled TV star (Branagh's wife) whose California preoccupations (weight and shopping) would make the film seem anti-American if Rudner weren't herself a Yank.

Fry, the reunion's host, is the pivotal character, a sexually ambiguous, to-the-manor-bound twit whose relationships with all his friends are defined by his timidity and their adventuresome, sometimes rapacious spirit.

Laurie and Imelda Staunton are a troubled couple preoccupied with the health of their son. Their tribulations are only a part of the unhappy undertone, though. This film is as likely to leave you sniffling as laughing, but you'll grin through the tears. (Unrated)

From Our Partners