The Hippopotamus

"Good"

The Hippopotamus Review


This British satirical comedy may be a bit of a mess, but since it's based on a Stephen Fry novel, the snappy wit in the dialogue zings with his specific brand of intelligent humour. This keeps the audience entertained as the story plays lightly with ideas of social privilege and deep-seated faith. The film is overcrowded, and the themes are all over the place, but it's often quite funny.

The story is told through the eyes inebriated curmudgeonly writer Ted (Roger Allam), a former poet who has just been sacked as a theatre critic. Thankfully, he has a distraction when he's asked to look into the rumours that his 16-year-old godson David (Tommy Knight) has some sort of mystical healing powers. So he heads to the manor house where David lives with his parents (Matthew Modine and Fiona Shaw) and older brother Simon (Dean Ridge). As Ted tries to get to the bottom of things, he speaks with a local playwright (Tim McInnerny) and his old flame Rebecca (Geraldine Somerville). But it's not easy to keep focussed on his task when he's drinking so much.

The film is very loosely directed by John Jencks (The Fold), which means that the tone is all over the place. Some scenes are played for slapstick value, while others are darkly pointed or intensely emotional. There are also so many characters that it's tricky to work out the connections between them, especially as their constant bickering reveals a labyrinth of past issues, and Ted never stops talking in the voiceover narration. All of this is amusing but noisily chaotic. So it's up to the actors to hold our interest. Allam is reliably entertaining as the likeably smug Ted, and his interaction with each of the others is energetic and sometimes funny. Amid the shameless scene-chompers in the cast, it's Knight who emerges as the most sympathetic figure even though, like everyone else, he's just using other people to get what he wants.

Yes, there's a simplistic nihilism at the centre of this story, looking at the more animalistic elements of human nature. So it's a shame that the screenplay abandons both the deeper themes and the plot itself. The director and writers basically lose their grip on the material, throwing the central mystery away with a sudden, inexplicable Agatha Christie-style revelation. And they also never quite make anything of the observations they are making about how our expectations and beliefs can lead us to do some pretty ridiculous things.

The Hippopotamus



Facts and Figures

Genre: Comedy

Production compaines: Electric Shadow Company

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

Cast & Crew

Director: John Jencks

Producer: Alexa Seligman, Jay Taylor

Starring: as Ted Wallace, as Michael Logan, as Oliver Mills, as Jane Swann, Andrew Alexander as Matthew Lake, as Anne Logan, as Rebecca Logan, Tommy Knight as David Logan

Also starring:

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