Directed by Gillies MacKinnon, starring Andie MacDowell, Olivia Williams, Stephen Rea, Brenda Fricker, Iain Glen, Ruby Wax, August Zirner, Jean-Marc Barr, Sarah Bolger, Alan Devlin, Jia Francis, Bronagh Gallagher, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Heike Makatsch and Johnny Brennan.

'Tara Road' is, for the most part, a pleasant adaptation of Maeve Binchy's compelling story of a group of downtrodden and unfortunate women, who draw strength from each other. Far from trotting out and stretching any 'man-hating' formula or preaching lessons in good living, it displays characters who are flawed, intriguing and very deep - and there are very few who can create such complex characters as well as Binchy.

For those not familiar with the tale, 'Tara Road' revolves largely around the lives of two women, Dublin-based mother Ria (Williams) and heartbroken American mother Marilyn (MacDowell), whose son has just been killed in a motorbike accident. Ria, her jet-setting property developer husband Danny (Glen) and their two children Annie (Bolger) and Brian (Brennan) live a seemingly perfect life at their comfortable home on Tara Road. But all that is about to change or, more realistically, it never really existed.

When Ria discovers that Danny has been unfaithful, her whole world comes tumbling down around her. Oblivious to the state of their marriage, she is lost as to how to react to Danny's bombshell that his mistress (Makatsch) is pregnant. But a chance phonecall from a perturbed Marilyn, desperate to get away from her home in New England, offers a glimmer of hope for both women, as they rashly agree on a house swap, which turns out to be more of a life swap as they bond with each other's friends and families.

The idea for Binchy's novel was a solid one, which largely travels well to the big screen - much credit for that should lie with the cast, who tackle the novel's meaty characters with an obvious enthusiasm. Williams is particularly strong as the scatty, needy, yet somehow together Ria - interacting wonderfully with Glen and Wax, in her varying roles at home and abroad, as crumbling Ria and new-life Ria. Stephen Rea too plays loveable gardener, chef and general handyman Colm with a natural ease, complimenting each of the character's he touches on his own lonely journey.

Although 'Tara Road' is all about the non-stop drama of affairs, heartbreak and the trauma of very close relationships just waiting to boil over, it is the over-the-top nature of the proceedings that adds much of the comedy to the movie. Sure, some of the characters are totally clichéd (could Ria's husband Danny be a bigger love-rat?) but they draw you in with their antics, as you hope for them to eventually get their comeuppance. And, in a far-fetched way, it really shows the impact of betrayal and loss on families and groups of friends, yet successfully steers the mood away from the depressing tone it could have taken.

In the myriad of storylines that are intertwined here, and the number of characters that wander into and out of the lives of the central characters, you sometimes feel that a few could have been dropped without any detriment to the overall picture that is being painted. But confusion seems to be the name of the game with the muddled characters of Binchy's tale and in a strange way the overload works on some level, adding to the craziness of the situations they find themselves in. There are no half-measures here and you'll either love that or hate it.

Overall, 'Tara Road' has a nice mix of humour, tension and desperation, brought together by characters who love too much, don't love enough and those who never seem to realise what love is.

Linda McGee