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VINE VOICEon April 24, 2007
In "Almost Strangers," Stephen Poliakoff weaves a subtle spell. I recall thoroughly enjoying the engaging story and the superb acting--I mean, one can't beat Michael Gambon, Matthew Macfadyen, and Toby Stephens--when, totally unawares, I had become so entranced with the stories within the story of an extended family, that I had to watch all 237 minutes of it at one sitting.

Since the story is told from the point of view of Daniel (the son of the black sheep of the clan), who knows very little about the rest of the family, the viewer is put into a similar position, first of discomfort, as he moves from stereotypes, finally of fascinated affection, as he slowly unravels the secrets not only of his family but also of his own past.

Nor do the writers disappoint; all the clues deftly planted in the first scenes of the film, are revealed in a magical ending.
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on October 18, 2006
This 3-part production from the BBC is chiefly for fans of high-class soap. While intended to be full of ironies about the dubious pride we take in being related to notable people (especially when they're glamorous, upper class, and wealthy), the central story line is a series of revelations - all of them family secrets - that turn out to be more mysteriously promising in their expectation than they are in fact.

The performances make it all watchable. Michael Gambon is in top form as a curmudgeonly black sheep of the family (with comparisons early on to his cranky and embittered Singing Detective) and Lindsay Duncan as a beautiful, eternally sad woman of certain years who carries an unspoken grief with unfailing dignity. Together, they make a compelling contrast, and you wish the story had more to do with their relationship. Alas, it follows the adventures of his twenty-something son (Matthew Macfadyen), who takes a shine to two upper-crust cousins, while bedding one of them and finally meddling in family affairs that are beyond his simple wish to have age-old animosities resolved.

Writer-director Stephen Poliakoff provides a commentary for the film, revealing the experiences from his own life used as source material for the dramatic situations and characters he has created, plus observations on the film's production, locations used (like Claridge's) and other off-camera matters. A short featurette includes additional comments by Poliakoff and a few members of the cast.
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on December 31, 2006
finally, this wonderful series has made it to the u.s.

one of the things i most like about poliakoff's work is that it avoids the melodramatic, the sensational and the pathological. also the infintile. this is a story about people who do not shoot up, or shoot, do not beat others up, do not throw temper tantrums on sidewalks, do not plan elaborate and vicious crimes. soap operas offer hysterical and mentally unbalanced people doing immoral, unethical and contemptible things to those around them. poliakoff offers characters like the rest of us, but possibly better dressed.

this is storytelling that captivates with wonderful plotting, wonderful dialogue, and wonderful stories. the characters are annoying, irritating, charming, eccentric, courageous, talented, kind, selfish, admirable and hateful and very real. if you loose interest in the story, the sets will keep your attention.

there are a few scenes that keep the series from being child-friendly in the united states, which is a shame, since the series could spark an interest in family history in many children. as the dialogue has it, 'there are at least three great stories in any family.'
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VINE VOICEon February 10, 2009
Director/writer Stephen Poliakoff's movies focus on particular aspects of British life. In "Gideon's Daughter", Poliakoff captures the emptiness of celebrity culture, when it had reached unheard of heights after Princess Diana's death. In "Almost Strangers", the topic is family relationships, and the obsession with genealogy--digging to discover famous relations.

The setting for this 3 part BBC series is a family reunion, a gathering of relatives, many of whom have not seen each other for decades. As they congregate for receptions, lunches, dinners and lectures, we see a typical mix of elderly and young people from a variety of economic and social backgrounds, though they all are connected by blood. One of them is the self-appointed family historian, who has amassed photographs of their past and shares them with family members.

What makes this series so textured and fascinating is how Poliakoff uses images in the photographs to tell the backstories of these people. The stories themselves are often unexpected and shocking. What you see in reality hides the truths of the past, but you can decipher the pain, suffering, love and joy at key points in their lives in their old photographs. As the series begins, it is almost boring seeing all these people, but as it progresses and their stories unfold, you can hardly believe how interesting their various lives have been. It is a terrific lesson not to meet people and make assumptions based on appearances.

In a commentary Poliakoff discusses his own difficult relationship with his father, and the series reflects that difficulty in various family relationships. It is a brilliant incisive look into the private lives of a family: the good, the bad, and the humiliating. It is one of those experiences that afterwards you feel as though you actually knew everybody and that the experience was real. Highly recommended.
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on November 5, 2013
This is one of the greatest films ever, I'm not joking. The drama is so powerful, and so beautiful, too. I cried just at how beautiful is, that almost never happens. I ususally cry in very sad or very happy moments, and here I seem to cry at just sheer beauty of the story line, of the characters. The director shot this movie in such a way that touches you very deeply, the music is ethereal, and the cast is just dreamy. The beautiful and talanted Matthew Macfadyen just shines with all the power of his immense talent and charm in this. Highly recommended.
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on February 10, 2016
Loved the actors but the story was congratulatory about people's chosen prideful and sinful lives and, in some cases, there really was not much redemption. I'm glad about the one story of forgiveness in there, but I really rented this to watch Matthew McFadyen and didn't like seeing him play a bit of a lesser person than he has in, say, Little Dorrit or Pride and Prejudice. We always want our actors to be "good fellows," don't we?
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on November 6, 2013
WOW! So happy I decided to purchase this DVD. The story is gripping and each and every performance is spectacular. The entire production stays with you long after the end. I watched all three DVDs back to back and then watched them again the following day with the Commentary turned on. That was over a week ago and the story is still with me. Matthew Macfadyen, Michael Gambon, Lindsay Duncan, Claire Skinner and Toby Stephens will take your breath away with their fine performances. Do yourself a favor and purchase a copy of Almost Strangers for yourself. I know I will be watching this one again and again and again.
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on December 26, 2014
At first, I thought it a very strange movie, very strange indeed but by the end of the movie, I knew I must watch it again and pay careful attention to all that was said by each character.

FINALLY, It hit me like a ton of bricks what exactly that this movie was about. Relatives never change and I purchased it simply because it had fantastic actors and I love English movies, therefore it could not be bad and I was right! ENJOY!
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on October 24, 2013
I read some reviews where this show was dinged for being too slow. However, considering the subject matter, and the accurate depiction of how difficult it can be for an outsider to extract meaningful information about a family's "dark secrets," I felt that this was paced perfectly.

The slowness of the events gave me time to figure out some of the plot developments on my own. Compared to the typical short attention span presentations of modern Hollywood movies, I absolutely loved this.
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on August 16, 2014
Thought I gave a review on this one before. I wasn't satisfied because there was nudity in the movie. I prefer to not watch such things. I do love Matthew MacFadyen. That is why I bought it. I returned it.
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