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Secret Friends - Secret Friends(Blu Ray) [Powerhouse - 2020]

Secret Friends is the 1991 drama written and directed by the near legendary Dennis Potter. Potter was the enfant terrible of the English film/TV industry in the 1970s and 80s, he was best known for the wealth of great TV work in which he was involved,  including several well renowned BBC dramas that included Pennies from Heaven, The Singing Detective, and Brimstone and Treacle. Secret Friends was the final directorial piece of his career (and in fact the only feature film that he directed), released only three years before his death in 1994 at the age of 59.

Based on Potter’s 1986 novel, Ticket to Ride, the story focuses on John, an illustrator, played by English film icon Sir Alan Bates, whose grasp of what is real and what is fantasy has begun to spiral out of control. Whilst taking a train journey to London, John has in his own mind, begun to blur the lines between the marital problems of his real life and his fantasy life of prostitutes and call girls. He must try to decide whether or not he has really murdered his wife Helen, played by the eminently watchable Gina Bellman, and whether his childhood friend Angela, played by Frances Barber is actually real or just a part of his twisted, imagined fantasy.

Whilst Secret Friends is certainly not Potter’s finest hour it is an interesting and flawed feature film. There are some good performances, notably from Bellman who shows great range, moving from the role of downtrodden wife to wild, vampish sexual predator, there is also Barber who makes a good fist of her role as Angela and Tony Doyle who plays John’s friend and estate agent, Martin, whilst Alan Bates himself gives his all as the anxious, disturbed figure of John suffering a mental breakdown and losing his mind on the train. Sadly, Secret Friends doesn’t have the same impact as some of Potter’s better-known work, it lacks the cohesiveness of Brimstone and Treacle or The Singing Detective. There are some good ideas and the overarching concept is an interesting one, but it just feels as though Potter has missed his mark, however it is really nice to finally see this arrive on Bluray, purely from the perspective of someone who has enjoyed Potter’s work.

From a technical perspective, the disc features a nice new print of the film that looks both sharp and natural, and as well as the usual trailers and image gallery there are some interesting featurettes, specifically a short interview with Ian McNeice who looks back on his experiences of working with Potter, and a short film by Graham Fuller who attempts to unravel the story behind Secret Friends.

Overall, this is a well-produced disc and one that will appeal to Dennis Potter completists. Whilst the film itself is not vintage Potter it has enough interesting ideas and typical Potter flourishes to make it of interest to fans of his work.

Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5

Darren Charles
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