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More tragedy than comedy but a great cast of characters
on 4 January 2017
A tragi-comic reunion tests old friendships. When his landed-gentry father dies, Peter (Stephen Fry) inherits a glorious, rambling, palatial country house and a crushing load of debt. Depressed about having to sell the old pile, Peter decides to cheer himself up by inviting his old mates from Oxford for one last New Year's bash. The six friends used to be very close and New Year's ten years earlier was the last time they inflicted on unsuspecting relatives their embarrassingly awful cancan cabaret act with both men and women dressed as showgirls. Since then adult life has meant that they have lost touch, and the reunion is made even more awkward by the introduction of a couple of partners who quickly clash with the original group.
While there are many comic situations, the core of the story is that they are all profoundly unhappy. In their own different ways, all six friends are living lives that appear successful on the surface, but are rife with tension and drama. Being together again, on a spuriously happy occasion, forces them to take stock of their situation, seeing themselves through the eyes of their old pals, and brings each of them to a personal crisis. How they deal with these unpleasant self-revelations changes the course of their future lives.
An emotional roller coaster, peppered with some memorably funny lines, and enriched by strong performances from a bunch of seasoned British veterans and a capable American comedienne, Rita Rudner, who also co-wrote the script. The storyline lacks subtlety, and often veers into maudlin saccharine. Some of the characters are not very likeable, but the various subplots and back stories add humanity and interest. I didn't find it as “totally uproarious” as promised, but some of the more ludicrous dialogue has stuck with me.