The epic romance that is made of this slight drama set in the Ireland of the 1950s results in a somewhat overblown film that is redeemed by the star-making performances of its lead actress and a pair of supporting players. Minnie Driver, who gained 30 pounds to play the role of Benny Hogan, shines in the role of a lifetime, where she is required to play exuberant, crushed, righteously indignant, naïve, determined, and heartbroken in the course of a script that gives new meaning to the term "character arc." Equally enthralling are then-unknowns Alan Cumming as duplicitous clerk Sean Walsh and Saffron Burrows as the desperate Nan, scheming to save her life and reputation by ruining a friend. Director Pat O'Connor's touch is less than delicate, often lacking a subtlety that would have been welcome, but his cast is nearly flawless. Only Chris O'Donnell strikes a wrong note in the role of a privileged Irish college student, his all-American party boy qualities never quite being submerged enough by his role or questionable accent. Despite these few notable shortcomings, Circle of Friends (1995) is not to be missed for its remarkable acting and early appearances from a trio of performers who would quickly go on to bigger and better films.