User Reviews (14)

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  • Michael Palin shows that he has grown beyond his Monty Python days, but he has not left them far behind. His droll portrayal of an Oxford fellow, one who must avoid marriage at all costs, is sheer delight. He meets and cannot avoid falling in love with an American woman, but it is the depth and sincerity of his love that surprises him and us. The cinematography is stunning in Switzerland, and all dark days and wooden paneling in Oxford, in both cases conveying a metaphor for Palin's interior struggle. Wonderful and gentle.
  • Rev Francis Ashby is a bookish and retiring don at Oxford who reluctantly gives in to his colleagues insistences that he go for a holiday. Enjoying the peace and quiet in the Alps he is initially disturbed by the arrival of a group including an American woman (Caroline) and her teenager ward (Elinor). However, acting as their guide when the rest of the group returns to the lodgings, Ashby starts to fall for the darling Elinor but, after slight bonding, he is called back immediately due to the failing health of the college president. When his American friends come to Oxford to visit, their arrival throws the college into a tizzy and he finds himself in competition with others for not only the role of president but also for the hearts of his friends.

    Watching this film for the third time since its release in the early nineties I decided to review it and, looking at the title page was astonished (yes, really) to see that only 106 people have voted on it. I know this is not a total representation of how many people have actually seen it but I was surprised how such a well-known film appears to be underseen (although it may say more about the demographics of those that use this site most). This is not to imply that it is an excellent film but it is a well paced film that is enjoyable on its own terms. For those expecting great sentiment you will be let down, likewise those expecting a Merchant Ivory film, or a very comic film but those open to a nicely sensitive little tale that is slightly comic but more enjoyable for being restraining and being very true to the Englishness of its subjects and the polite behaviour of the period.

    Based on his own grandfather's diaries, Palin has done a good job as both writer and director to capture the period and deal with the subject in a way that is unshowy but not stale, sensitive and patient but never dull and comic without ever being so crude as to actually make you laugh out loud. It isn't fantastic of course but it is nicely lowkey and it is enjoyable for what it is. As actor Palin continues this good work and he delivers a very restrained and shy performance – even more amazing when you think this is a Python! Booth and Alvarado are both very attractive and restrained at the same time and effective if not memorable. Molina, currently playing a superhero baddie, plays a 'baddie' of another sort here and he pitches his character well to be dastardly while still keeping within the period. Support from Jones, Firth, Eddison and others is good and they all keep to the period and the material yet.

    Overall this is not an amazing film or even a really good one, but what it is is a well written period drama that is delivered well enough to prevent it being dull and it comes over as a nice little film that is pleasing to watch even if it never sets the screen on fire. An undervalued little drama that is a well handled, very personal film from Palin who does very well in all three of his roles.
  • There is plenty of atmosphere in this film. It portrays the conflict that occurred in the universities of the day (1866) between the traditional and the newer blood that was required to bring the universities into the modern world. It is almost an allegory showing the old world (Oxford) as it battles against the influence of new ideas represented by the new world (the 'American Friends'). Michael Palin is excellent in the role of Mr. Ashby. Throughout the film he portrays in a wonderful manner the bewilderment of facing the challenge of coming to terms with new order represented by Mr. Sime (Alfred Molina) in the challenge for the presidency of the college. In the end he follows his heart (and probably his head as well) and leaves the old world to its devices. Well worth watching.
  • I confess that I've never found Michael Palin very funny. His desperate mugging in "A Fish Called Wanda" marked a particular low. And his many, many travel documentaries have at times stretched to breaking point his ability to say something interesting about his journeys. But, and against type, his finest work as performer and writer is "American Friends" and it is very fine indeed.

    Based on the true story of his great grandfather, it is a wonderful, gently comic evocation of the claustrophobic lives - and obligatory bachelorhood - of 1860's Oxford University academics (the repressive world which spawned Lewis Carrol). A wonderfully rich, gently comic performance too by veteran Robert Eddison as the dying head of the college, surrounded at the end simply by his college fellows. Entirely devoted to academic excellence and religiosity, only occasional male horseplay for some ever interrupted their high-minded bachelor lives. The natural candidate to take over as head of the college, the Palin character, thus seemed fated to live and die within its confines just as had his predecessor. Reluctantly persuaded to take a short walking summer holiday alone in the (beautifully filmed) Swiss Alps, suddenly into his late bachelor life comes Womanhood, Beauty - and Love - in the shapes of a middle-aged American lady and her young ward. Again a wonderful poignant dignified performance by Connie Booth; her young ward's youth and beauty making her suddenly aware that her own looks and prospects are now both very much on the downward slope.

    An inauthentic jarring note was Alfred Molina's portrayal of Palin's academic rival; so openly leering, crude and dissolute, it was difficult to imagine that he could have coexisted with his high-minded fellows - unless they were so very unworldly that they failed to understand him.

    Curiously very reminiscent indeed of "Goodbye Mr Chips" (1935), arguably American Friends is a far better film; subtle, gentle and beautiful. Palin was a student at Oxford and there is affection, respect and an intense attention to period feel in his portrayal of the character and the place.
  • This film, based on the journals of Michael Palin's great-grandfather, is of course humorous, but also teaches a valuable lesson. The script is fantastic, the camera work is beautiful, the acting is superb, and the story, while entertaining, is also quite deep. A must-see for anyone looking for a good film.
  • A lovely, thoughtful look at love between a professor and a young woman. Has a nice sense of period without stuffiness or artifice, good humorous observations, nice subtle acting. A great alternative to those overstuffed, melodramatic Merchant-Ivory type films. Also check out Palin's "The Missionary"; it's a little more broad but quite funny, and Maggie Smith is a treasure.
  • The "child mentality" within each one of us clings to tradition. If you can remember a happy childhood, you are probably recalling a time when you instinctively distrusted change - because "change" might mean a "change for the worse". By contrast, in those teenage years you welcomed change (it's something to do with hormones). Will this colourless nineteenth century academic Francis Ashby (Michael Palin) escape from the "grown-up childhood" of suffocating university tradition - including celibacy for most of the faculty (they're called "fellows")? The auspices are not encouraging. Everyone in the system, including the Rev Ashby (yes, he's entitled to become an Anglican vicar, if he should fail as a "don") - they're all so self-satisfied. Nothing needs to change, because everything is perfect the way it is. You begin to wonder: How did this hidebound institution survive into the twentieth century? Why is the name "Oxford" still synonymous with the highest standard of intellectual achievement? When did they stop thinking that the study of ancient Greek and Latin was the be-all and end-all? The answer is that Oxford did change, but slowly and reluctantly. In 2004 New Zealander John Hood was appointed CEO (correct title: "Vice-Chancellor") of the University, with a clear brief: the whole place was badly in need of another shake-up. The details are in Wikipedia. Hood got quite a lot of "reforming" done, but after three years of hammering away at entrenched opposition and obstruction, he'd had enough - he wouldn't be seeking a renewal of his 5-year contract.

    Much of the energy in the movie "American Friends" went into securing its accuracy and authenticity, almost as a sociohistorical study; so any viewer given to impatience might wonder if this isn't some sort of documentary - enlivened with a modest story line. If you never went to Harvard, you might wonder what a premium university looks like - inside. Thanks to WGBH television, we can watch Professor Michael Sandel lecturing on political ethics to a large auditorium full of very sharp young minds (they're all supposed to have read the challenging course texts). So what was uni like 150 years ago? - it was different! The movie is a test of your imagination as a viewer - can you think your way back into this artificial world of fuddy-duddy pedagogical privilege, a world that did actually exist? There's humour, but it mainly consists of the dry wit and in-jokes of a community of cleverness, cut off from the crudities of the "real world".

    The women (who are after all the eponymous "American Friends") are underutilised. Connie Booth ("Caroline Hartley") manages to engage in some dialogue, but the lovely Trini Alvarado ("Elinor") is given very little to do (except model Victorian frocks). Apart from perving at a distant male bather through binoculars, the most interesting thing she does in the movie is to fall into a lake, revealing a glimpse of ankles that are otherwise concealed under all those skirts and petticoats. But isn't all this authentic? - yes it is. A young lady was supposed to be decorously genteel - yes I know! But it takes a mental effort to realise that this code of female passivity was an essential aspect of an era that also featured Florence Nightingale, Harriet Beecher Stowe, George Eliot, Ada Augusta King, Annie Besant and Victoria Woodhull.

    Enter the villain. The villain is (of course) change, reform, progress - symbolised by "Oliver Syme", a role nicely understated by Alfred Molina. It's no surprise that Syme might have been considered by your typical puritan Victorian as a "bit of a bounder" - not entirely reliable in his relations with the fairer sex. Just like Ashby and the other college tutors, Syme is a "fellow" - required to remain a celibate bachelor, presumably for the rest of his life. The elderly college President is on his last legs, and Syme is Ashby's main rival in the forthcoming election for a new President. But will a whiff of scandal discredit either of these candidates? Ashby met Caroline and Elinor when he was on holiday in Switzerland. Now they come to visit him in Oxford. But surely it's all completely innocent! Ashby is rather taken by these ladies, but which one does he have the stronger feelings for? And which one has the stronger feelings for him? Nineteenth century decorum enables the movie to keep us guessing - or at least it tries to. And which impulse will win in the end? - Ashby's ambition to become college President, or these unfamiliar stirrings of the heart? Meanwhile they're putting on an amateur production of "King Lear" - which doesn't seem to have much to do with the main plot. One of the people that Ashby met in Switzerland was an Oxford physician, Dr Weeks (Alun Armstrong). Weeks is trying to ingratiate himself with Ashby because he wants to get his son into the college. If the young chap is not up to it (the oral entrance exam requires the memorisation of a hefty chunk of Latin), will Ashby, as chairman of the entrance panel, turn Dr Weeks into a dangerous enemy? The bottom line: You'll enjoy this movie? It depends. If you prefer a leisurely 10-part TV adaptation of a Dickens novel to an overcooked two-hour movie version, then "American Friends" is probably for you. But you'll need to be paying attention. Things are happening even when nothing appears to be happening. I liked it.
  • Remembering watching American Friends, this is the first time I see Michael Palin at a more serious role. I completely enjoy watching this film. Palin plays an Oxford professor who falls for an American woman (Connie Booth) and her daughter (Trini Alvarado). A wonderful acted film and the scenery is breathtaking to watch. Well worth the effort to see.
  • Set about one hundred years ago, in Europe and England, this tale of repressed love initially feels like a re-working of 'A Room with a View', with the list of who fell for whom slightly re-arranged. But its portrait of Victorian England seems deliberately exaggerated: a woman can't speak to a college fellow without ruining his reputation, it seems, or talk to a man after dark without being arrested as a whore. Yet there's a charm here that grows on you, in spite of its obviousness. What is perhaps a shame is the missed opportunity presented by the fact that there hero's opponent (in a college election) is an advocate of evolution, which by implication the hero opposes: but the film does not force its favourite to defend his creed. I liked odd bits of casting: Alfred Molina playing sexy, for example, and Roger Lloyd-Peck (Trigger in 'Only Fools and Horses') playing posh. But the script itself, though cute, could have done with some of the same originality.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This was screened late last night on the BBC and provided another chance to see this excellent film written by and starring Michael Palin who based the story on his own great-grandfather who left Oxford to marry a woman he met whilst on holiday. Public School/Universities are, of course, something the British film industry does very well, indeed the Original (1951) The Browning Version with Michael Redgrave is one of the finest British films of all time and American Friends makes a fine addition to the ranks. The mores of 1860s Oxford are beautifully captured and full of details and the late Robert Eddison, primarily a stage actor, brings his mellifluous second-only-to-Gielgud voice fully to bear in all his scenes. Palin also captures to perfection the product of years of conditioning on the verge of becoming set in his ways and then undergoing a life-changing meeting. There is strong support all round with Connie Booth turning in a just-right reading of a maturing woman daring to hope for a bite at the cherry and hiding her disappointment and Alfred Molina more or less phoning in his standard cad about campus. Excellent.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    My wife saw this movie was scheduled to air, uncut, on the MGM channel and recorded it for me, knowing that I'm a big Monty Python and Michael Palin fan. In fact, I'm such a Python fan that I was surprised to find a film starring Palin and Connie Booth (and featuring Simon Jones and Charles McKeown) that I'd somehow never heard of. I'm guessing this movie wasn't very well promoted in the U.S. Which is not surprising, as it deals with the very British subject of life at Oxford university in the nineteenth century and features dramatic roles from actors known on this side of the pond strictly for their comedy.

    Palin plays Mr. Ashby, a teacher at Oxford who has devoted his entire life to his work and is in line to be voted the next president of the college when the elderly current president meets his end. Despite his protests, Ashby's colleagues insist that he take a vacation. While hiking in the Alps, he meets a single woman his own age (Booth) and her adopted daughter. For reasons that are never explained both women fall instantly and deeply in love with him. Seems pretty unlikely, but there wouldn't be a film without it (and, apparently, this is all based on a true story).

    Any hint of a romantic relationship would ruin Ashby's chances at the college presidency (fellows at the college are expected to remain celibate), so when the women follow him back to Oxford it becomes a scandal. Naturally Ashby's chief rival for the presidency, Oliver Syme, does everything he can to add fuel to the flames. Somehow, no one seems to notice that Syme himself is a womanizer.

    In the end, Ashby has to decide whether to keep trying to climb the career ladder at the college or leave and start a new life with one of the two women.

    So this obviously isn't a Pythonesque comedy - other than a few wry smiles it had hardly any humor at all. But the scenery is beautiful (especially the scenes in the Alps) and the atmosphere and acting are well done. The pace is a bit slow, but it's a period drama so that's to be expected. In the end I enjoyed the movie, even though it wasn't at all what I thought it would be.
  • It's 1861 Rev Francis Ashby (Michael Palin) is a senior Oxford teacher holidaying alone in the Alps. He meets the American family Hartleys. Young Elinor (Trini Alvarado) is especially taken with Mr Ashby. None of the teachers are allowed to marry. When Elinor and Caroline Hartley surprise him arriving at Oxford, they aren't even allowed to stay on the College grounds. Oliver Syme (Alfred Molina) is a scheming new-thinker, and becomes a challenger to the morally unblemished Ashby for the post of College President.

    Michael Palin wrote the story, and probably has taken great personal stakes in this movie. It seems that much effort has been put into maintaining the authenticity in the relationship between the sexes. The monastic feel of college life can be a very trying watch. It's very stale and not very exciting. Even a great debate sound dry and uninteresting.

    The woman's touch allows the movie to gain a bit of color. Michael Palin is painfully reserved. There is an intense love story amidst the sexual repression to be had, but the pacing is so slow that it never gains the energy to lift off. Palin and Alvarado need more time together. The movie gains some altitude when they are hiding in his room. However the emphasis keeps being pushed to the developing scandal rather than the developing romance. Instead of a love story, it's a story of propriety.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    It was actually painful to watch this because it was as if many of the elements for success had been carefully gathered together but then spectacularly botched in assembly.

    It's the cubic zirconium version of a Merchant/Ivory production.

    The production design and the location cinematography were wonderful but they were sabotaged by everything else.

    The tone of the film was relentlessly morose and the pace too slow for something so little charged. I usually hate Alfred Molina (for no good reason) but his character here (although a villain) actually became the most welcome presence on the screen because Molina, at least, brought some spark and energy and vibrancy to his part.

    The others seemed to be walking through a field of molasses. The casting was atrocious, at least in my opinion. There was no one to root for. Palin is usually very likable but his approach to this part was wooden and monotonous. No shading at all. Not to mention that Michael Palin apparently thought that transforming his normal attractiveness into big-screen unsightly was somehow more "authentic" and "artsy." And if the audience is expected to care about his character's depicted "romance," how about casting an actress with some charisma, some ability to enthrall and enchant. To make the filmed version of the true-life story believable. Or at least watchable.

    All in all it was a missed opportunity to make a good film. This one was, in my opinion, not worth watching. The back story is much more interesting than the film itself.
  • davidjanuzbrown26 December 2015
    Warning: Spoilers
    This is an excellent movie, with a brilliant performance by Michael Palin as Mr. Ashby. The reality is he was an honorable man (unlike his main competitor to be President of Oxford (Oliver Syme (Alfred Molina)). Keep in mind, he was also a Reverend, and knew things like desiring a woman such as Elinor (Trini Alvarado) was a sin and since the vow of celibacy at Oxford was very important in those days, he knew he would be a hypocrite if he was urging others to follow a policy, he himself did not want to follow). When the movie took place (1866) they did not even allowing women on campus, and it would take until 1959 until they were admitted as students. As it turned out, he made the right decision choosing Eleanor over Oxford, because the movie is based on his Great grandfather Edward Palin and as he said about the woman Elinor is based upon (her name was Brita) "We married in Paris in 1867 and she has made me the happiest of men." Based upon the many laughs that Palin (and Monty Python) have brought to people down through the years, it was a good choice indeed.