JJust good friends

Having taken on Hollywood and won. Kenneth Branagh returns to home turfwith Peter’s Friends. Trevor Johnston joined the party.

Unlike Polo. people just don‘t seem to like Kenneth Branagh. His rather sniffy treatment from nearly all sections of the media is most likely an extreme manifestation ofthat fine old British pastime of resenting success. yet what has the poor lamb actually done to deserve such disdain? Well. at 32 he‘s only been through the whole RSC bit. formed his own theatre company. been on loads of telly. written a couple ofplays. knocked out his autobiography. and directed and starred in three movies. the latest ofwhich Peter's Friends opens this year‘s London Film Festival in early November. Whatever else he is— and ‘smug

bastard'. ‘that old luvvy’ and ‘Mister Potatohead are just some terms ofendearment I‘ve heard people come out with recently - our Ken's certainly not idle.

Meeting Branagh for the first time proved to be not quite the experience you‘d expect. Not once did he call me ‘darling‘. ‘dear‘ 0r ‘petal'. opting instead to pepper his conversation with a liberal sprinkling ofa favourite Anglo-Saxon expletive. On Hamlet. which he‘s due to do for the RSC early next year. for instance. his assessment is ‘fucking gloomy Dame and we‘re doing the full four and a halfhours'ofit . . . fuckingtest ofstamina that is‘. Surely not the sort of sentiments you'd expect from the wannabe theatrical knight he's so often


His new movie overturns your expectations too. Fora start. when he could have stayed in Hollywood after the ()scar nominations for Henry Vand the enthusiastic critical and commercial reception for Dear/Again. he chose to return to Britain and do a modestly mounted character-orientated comedy-drama instead. ‘I wanted to make a small film. “a relationship movie” if that‘s what you want to call it. and Peter' Friends seemed a more natural move than all those big bucks jobbies.‘ he explains. adding with a certain wryness that it also ‘allowed me to continue to educate myself in the filmmaking process because sheer enthusiasm has so far helped me get

through the inevitable technical blind-spotsl

know I have.‘ Blind-spots or not. the end result is a highly assured. extremely funny and deceptively

touching film by anyone‘s standards. A decade

after their last performance together. the former members of a varsity comedy revue team are reunited by a summons from one of their number.

the talented but dilettante-ish Peter (Stephen

Fry). to join him for a New Year break at the

family mansion. Making up the assembly are Roger and Mary (Hugh Lawrie and Imelda

Staunton). a successful advertising jingle learn;

. Maggie (Emma Thompson). a shy and solitary

bookworm; costume designer Sarah (Alphonsia Emmanuel) with the gormless Brian (Tony Slattery). most recent in a very long line of boyfriends. in tow; and. ofcourse. Andrew

Peter’s Friends: ‘highly assurd. extremely funny and decetively touching'

(Kenneth Branagh). a once promising playwright who‘s since sought his fortune in American TV. creating the hit sitcom Who's In The Kitchen? and marrying the show‘s star. (‘arol (Rita Rudncr). Each of them may have achieved varying levels of career security. but with failing marriages. screwed-up relationships. a tragic cot death and

I further as-yet-unrevealed traumas lurking in their j collective recent history. the old gang seem to have

paid a heavy toll for it.

From a mere synopsis. though. all this can sound a bit like some old school tie version of The Big (.‘hill. but Branagh’s adamant there's a ‘recognition factor‘ in the material that will communicate with any audience. ‘Look. it's not

some “Lifestyles of the rich and famous" thing.‘ he

points out with no little candour. ‘it's about friendship and the enjoyment offriends on whatever level. It had to be as honest a film as you

could make it and. that being the case. either it was

genuine and people responded to it or whatever preconceptions the audience brought to it continued to get in the way. On the whole so far. people go with the movie. I‘m pleased about doing a piece of work where you say right away to the viewer “Look. forget about what you thought about me. here's a film. You can forget about how much I irritate you. why don‘t you just watch this? You‘ll use up far less energy just going along with it than you would by just sitting there hating me!“ ' Peter '5 Friends opens a! the M( i M Park h ead , Edinburgh (.‘ameo and all U ( 'Is on Friday 13 November.

_ Simply Hal

‘What I like to do in my films is deconstruct complacency,‘ chirps dapper auteur-about-town Hal Hartley, whose third feature as writer/director is 2 now pleasingly upon us. ‘Deconstruct popular notions of happiness and unhappiness. Responsibility and irresponsibility. Morality and immorality. Once you start thinking along these lines the whole world becomes a big laboratory and I’m always tinkering with the elements.’ Simple Men is the story of two brothers, sell-styled white collar

criminal Bill McCabe (regular Hartley leading man Robert Burke) and bookish student Dennis (William Sage), who

. set out to track down their reclusive

father but hit a romantic skirmish along

. the way, which continues in much the same vein of investigative comedy

where The Unbelievable Truth and

Trust lelt off. Although it deploys

similarly quirky characters and

elaborately farcical plots to pick apart

our iailings and foibles as social

individuals, Hartley sees this most recent offering as something oi a

reaction to its predecessors. ‘Trust posits the possibility that someone like

2; the Adrienne Shelley character could exist in the world,’ he explains. ‘In

i Simple Men I wanted to show Bill

I obiectiiying a woman in the most

the whole process.’

despicable way sol could dismantle

he hasn’t quite managed to please all the people all the time. ‘The response f from the press and people in the industry on this one has been "Okay, so we know you can do that; why don’t you go and do something else now?” he sighs, ‘but it’s not a view oi artistic % endeavour I’m in tune with. it’s the continuity of the work that’s most important to me. At the start of the next one I don’t want to have "A Film By Hal Hartley” but “Another Film By Hal Hartley”, because it’s like an ongoing conversation with the audience.’ (TrevorJohnston)


Hartley’s typically poised and confident pictures have placed him among the handful of directors working today to have developed a genuinely distinctive creative imprint, but even

Simple Men opens at the Edinburgh Filmhouse on Friday 6 November and at the Glasgow Film Theatre in December.

The Lisi 6- 179 November 199517