Almost Strangers

British writer/director Stephen Poliakoff did it again! In 2001 he created a television mini-series about a family reunion. It's hard to identify which actor is the "star" because so many of the characters figure so heavily in the 237 minutes of this highly involving dramedy. "Almost Strangers" is also called "Perfect Strangers," so be careful when you look for it in your library or on your rental lists. The captions were activated by my DVD remote, not from my TV.

Michael Gambon ("Gosford Park," "The Lost Prince," "Layer Cake" and Dumbledore in "Harry Potter") plays one of the central characters. His son is played by Matthew Macfadyen ("Pride and Prejudice" - 2005 and "Death at a Funeral"). They are invited to a huge family reunion despite living some distance north of London and being considered sort of the black sheep of the family flock. One lovely aunt is played by Lindsay Duncan ("Mansfield Park" and "The Queen of Sheba's Pearls") who portrays an elegant, gracious and capable woman caught in a wrenching dilemma.

Macfadyen meets two cousins of a similar age and the three of them hit it off together. The male cousin is played by one of my favorites, Maggie Smith's son, Toby Stevens ("Tenant of Wildfell Hall," "Twelfth Night" and "Possession"). As we encounter various members of this extended family, we are treated with flashbacks which provide the back stories for them. There are long-kept secrets, long-held grudges, long-hidden love affairs, long-forgotten photographs and long-cherished marriages. We can wonder at the inseparable trio of elderly women, gape at the beautiful estates where the various functions take place and wince at the drunken dinner speech.

This mini-series is involving, entertaining and highly satisfying.

I recommend it.