Circle of Friends (1995)

Minnie Driver in Circle of Friends (1995)

Ever Increasing Circles

As children Eve, Bernadette 'Benny' and Nan (Geraldine O'Rawe, Minnie Driver and Saffron Burrows) were close and whilst Nan and her family moved to Dublin when the girls gew up they all ended up reuniting at Dublin University. That is where Benny first laid eyes on Jack (Chris O'Donnell), a medical student who is a hero on the sports field and whilst they hit it off things were hard especially as her parents wanted her to marry Sean (Alan Cumming), the creepy manager which her father employed in his haberdashers in the town of Knockglen. Whilst Benny and Jack deal with their feelings for each other as they discuss sex Nan has her eyes on bagging herself a wealthy man and sets about seducing Simon Westward (Colin Firth) who's family live at the manor house, but things don't go to plan causing heartache for everyone.

I remember when "Circle of Friends" came out and the girls in my own circle of friends were mad for this movie. mooning over Chris O'Donnell's eyes. And in fairness having finally watched it I can see why the girls back then could be swayed by O'Donnell and his eyes as well as the gentle romantic melodrama in this adaptation of a Maeve Binchy novel. But after watching "Circle of Friends" now I have to say that whilst the acting was good and the settings were great this romantic melodrama is quite a lethargic little movie which initially feels a bit like a period coming of age drama but then tries to manufacture more drama on top of it.

Chris O'Donnell in Circle of Friends (1995)

Now I have never read Maeve Binchy's novel on which "Circle of Friends" is based and like so many adaptations it seems that the movie didn't live up to the expectations of those who read the novel first. But in truth it didn't live up to my expectations either for the simple reason that it is a lethargic movie, slow going for so long that whilst it wins you over early with the Irish charm and a beautiful reconstruction of 1950's Ireland it struggles to keep you interested. It's not so much the story which is the problem because the coming of age aspect as Benny has to deal with not only her feelings for Jack but also her parents expectations combined with her religious up bringing is quite good. There is a lot of depth in there over Benny's inner conflict and as she is quite a strong character it makes it all very real. But director Pat O'Connor takes too long in scenes which makes it all so slow and you wonder if anything will ever come of her emotional conflict.

Eventually "Circle of Friends" delivers some drama or in fact double drama because on one hand we have the scheming Sean who we quickly learn is trying to manipulate his way in to the family business but we also have the drama revolving around Nan and her seduction of Simon. Again all of this is well written but the execution of the drama in the movie is painfully slow and it lessens the impact of it. In fact what should border on passionate and intelligent melodrama ends up quite dull.

And that is a crying shame for the simple reason that "Circle of Friends" is full of great acting. Minnie Driver is brilliant as Benny delivering beauty, intelligence and a sense of getting stuck in which makes her likeable. Likeable extends to Geraldine O'Rawe, Aidan Gillen and of course Chris O'Donnell who's laid back performance is quite charming. On the other hand Saffron Burrows and Coin Firth do a nice job of making their characters slightly despicable but unfortunately when it comes to Alan Cummings as the slimey Sean he is too much of a slimey caricature and his big scene ends up a little corny rather than amusing as intended.

What this all boils down to is that "Circle of Friends" is not the great movie I hoped it would be and suffers from being far too slow to the point that the dramatic scenes are arduous. And that is a shame because the actual storyline is good as are most of the performances but because it is slow going it is laborious.