Easy on the eyes and on the emotions, American Friends is a slim vignette about two Yank women who fall for a reserved Oxford don.
Pic opens in the 1860s at a stuffy Oxford college where bachelor classics don Francis Ashby (Michael Palin) is setting off for a walking vacation in Switzeland. Atop the Alps, he meets two Americans, Caroline (Connie Booth) and her doe-eyed ward, Elinor (Trini Alvarado). Emotions are stirred, and Elinor gets the first kiss.
Back in Oxford, Ashby is one of two candidates lined up to take over as college president when the current one dies. Ashby rival Oliver Syme (Alfred Molina) has hyperactive hormones, so if Ashby can stay respectably celibate, the job’s virtually his. Enter, en route to Philadelphia, the two Yanks – and much trouble for Ashby.
There’s a lot going on beneath the surface, but not much of it reaches the screen. Lack of dramatic tension can be blamed, in part, on the ex-Monty Python trouper’s performance. Although yarn is based on an actual event discovered in his great-grandfather Edward’s travel diaries, Palin is too lightweight for such a key role. His crusty, middle-aged bachelor doesn’t ring true. Thesping otherwise is crisp and reliable.