CIRCLE OF FRIENDS is a coming-of-age drama set in Dublin and in a
small town in the Irish countryside nearby. According to the credits,
much of it was filmed in County Kilkenny, Ireland. If you have been
lucky enough to spent some time in Ireland as I did for three weeks,
you know how beautiful it is. The movie shows off beautiful scenery
without tending to overpower the story as some movies do, e.g., LEGENDS
OF THE FALL. The cinematography by Kenneth MacMillan was peaceful and
serene in a natural and graceful way.
Newcomer Minnie Driver plays Benny, a big boned, slightly homely
girl from a small town who wants to make it in life. I think this may
the age of the wallflowers. There are definite parallels to the part
Toni Collette played in Muriel's Wedding which was released in the US
about the same time.
Benny grows up with a circle of two main girlfriends played by
Geraldine O'Rawe and Saffron Burrows. They leave the village to go off
to University. There they meet a circle of boys lead by Jack (Chris
O'Donnell). Benny is ambitious about her schooling and her love life
and falls instantly in love with Jack.
As you would guess, there are complications and complexities.
Some have to do with the small town, some with Benny's belief that
since she is not beautiful and Jack is, he will not be interested in
her, and still others have to do with the strict Catholic upbringing in
Ireland. Of course, as in all movies, we find out that the church is
almost always in the wrong, and as soon as the characters grow up
enough or get smart enough, they realize this and leave or ignore the
church. It would be nice to have religion appear in a movie every now
and then in a positive light. After all, we have lots of movie
glorifying everything from gangsters to heavy drinking to you name it.
Oh well, ...
The problem with the movie is that, based on the information I
just gave you, you could write the script now, and you would probably
be close. The writer (Andrew Davies) took no risks, and the result is
a completely predictable plot. The director (Pat O'Donnell) went the
safe route as well making for a nicely homogenized show. This is all
quite surprising since the talent of Minnie Driver was clear and yet
was so often underutilized. Moreover, the writer also wrote the very
inventive script for the To Play The King British series recently on
PBS here and the director did the extremely moving and imaginative
Although it could have been much better, and although I was able
to forecast every turn in the movie, I did enjoy being a member of
Benny's circle of friends for a couple of hours. She was a character
I'm glad I got to know. Her strength of conviction and her charm wove
a spell on me.
CIRCLE OF FRIENDS runs a little long at 1:52. It is rated PG-13
for sexual discussions and scenes. There is no nudity of any kind and
no violence. The movie would be fine for anyone old enough to be
seriously interested in romance, say 10 and above I guess. I give the
movie a mild thumbs up with the reservations mentioned above, and I
award it ** 1/2.
Copyright © 1995 Steve Rhodes