It’s all about chemistry: Peter’s Friends (Kenneth Branagh, 1992)


I’ve known about the plot of Peter’s Friends, twist and all, for years and years and had no interest in it. I didn’t know who its actors were, however, and as such have been oblivious to what it really is. Although written by Rita Rudner and Martin Bergman, it’s a film with Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson, Kenneth Branagh and Tony Slattery that’s seemingly inextricable from their real lives and relationships.

Though it’s not a great work of art, I’m sure that anyone who’s a fan of these actors will enjoy it. You’ve got Stephen saying things like “fluff poppet” and “I’ve never made it a secret I’m a bit of a whoopsie.” You’ve got Hugh singing and playing instruments and being grave while dressed like he’s about to step into his role as Stuart Little’s dad. You’ve got Emma being batty and frightening Stephen by taking her clothes off. And you’ve got Tony being oversexed and giggly. Not to mention Kenneth being a hilarious drunk, Imelda Staunton being serious and silly, Phyllidia Law (Emma’s mother offscreen but not on) being understated and wise, Alphonsia Emmanuel making you wonder why her career didn’t take off, and Rita Rudner unafraid of taking on the most unsympathetic role.

The cast’s chemistry is plain to see, and Branagh takes advantage of it with quite a few long takes. With other actors it would probably be a slight film, and it is, but its stars have a convincing rapport that shines through the daffy stylistic conceits and the worst-of-the-80s soundtrack. It’s cosy enough to watch during the holiday season, yet its darker elements are genuinely sad. If all that doesn’t make you want to watch it, you really don’t need to.


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