Circle of Friends - video review (April 27, 2000)

Isn't it interesting how everybody's lives change over the course of time?

In 1949 in a small town in Ireland, we are introduced to three young girls, the best of friends, but the real events don't occur until 1957, when they've grown to be young women. This film follows the story of the three friends: Eve Malone (Geraldine O'Rawe)- daughter of the gardener at the grand Westward estate and who was orphaned at a very early age, to be raised by the local nuns; Nan (Saffron Burrows) - precocious child who grows up to be smart and beautiful, intent that she will rise high from her humble beginnings; and Bernadette "Benny" Hogan (Minnie Driver), daughter of the local clothier. The three friends reunite in Dublin when Benny and Eve enroll in the University of Dublin and run into Nan, whose family had moved to Dublin years earlier. There is much in store for the girls in university, especially for Benny, who is smitten with the school's BMOC, Jack Foley (Chris O'Donnell), following in his father's footsteps to be a doctor.

All of the excitement isn't just in Dublin though. Back home, Nan has set her sights on and begun an affair with Simon Westward (Colin Firth), bachelor son of the grand estate, and Benny has to contend with Sean Walsh (Alan Cumming), her father's employee who not only has designs on her but on her father's business as well.

Benny's dreams come true when she and Jack hook up, but a tragedy in the family, and Nan's misfortune and subsequent deception threaten to tear the two of them apart. But it's all a part of growing up in this circle of friends.

This film is a terrific adaptation of Maeve Binchy's novel, and while the film mostly follows the novel faithfully, it does iron out a few of the things I had disliked about the novel.

Minnie Driver ("Big Night", "Grosse Pointe Blank", "Good Will Hunting", "Tarzan" (voice only) and "Return to Me") is wonderful in this film.  Looking much less glamourous than she has appeared of late, she is wonderful in showing that even though Benny doesn't possess front-page cover-model looks, she's got so much going for her, and she's not afraid to go after what she wants. Chris O'Donnell ("Fried Green Tomatoes", "School Ties", "Scent of a Woman", "Mad Love", "Batman Forever" and "Batman & Robin") is good as the well-liked schoolboy who makes a mistake that could cost him everything. Alan Cumming ("Emma", "Plunkett & Macleane", "Eyes Wide Shut" and TVs current "God, the Devil and Bob" (voice only)) is excellent as slimy, creepy Sean Walsh; Colin Firth ("Valmont", "The English Patient" and "Shakespeare in Love") is very good as the self-centered Simon Westward; Geraldine O'Rawe ("Some Mother's Son") is fine as the even-keeled Eve; and Saffron Burrows ("In the Name of the Father" and "Deep Blue Sea") is good as the ever-calculating Nan.

I'd definitely recommend this film as a rental for a good story and great performances, and if you like the Irish setting, I'd also recommend you check out some of Maeve Binchy's novels and short story collections.


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