A charming plot prevails over dirt in The Englishman
The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain
Written and directed by Christopher Monger.
Starring Hugh Grant, Tara Fitzgerald, and Colm Meaney.
Opens Friday.By Teresa Esser
The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain provides an excellent look at provincial life in Wales during World War I. While the town's young men are out digging trenches in France and Belgium, their fathers spend their time drinking beer in the local pub and making bets about the height of their local mountain. Enter Anson (Hugh Grant), an Englishman whose duty it is to assist a topographer (Colm Meaney) in mapping Wales's most prominent geological features.
Although the locals are excited by the prospect of seeing their tiny town on one of Her Majesty's official maps, they become outraged when Anson announces that their beloved Fillan Garoo is but a 984-foot hill. According to the official geological rules, a mountain must measure at least one thousand feet. The scrappy villagers thus take it upon themselves to correct mother nature's "error" by hauling sixteen feet of dirt up the hill in wooden buckets.
The amazing thing about The Englishman is that although the plot is incredibly simple, viewers are nonetheless drawn in. Director Christopher Monger goes out of his way to capture the villagers' indignation at the Englishmen's official demotion of their precious pile of dirt. "The Germans have taken our lads," the narrator proclaims, "and now the English have taken our mountain. Is nothing sacred?"
The film's strength stems from its ability to turn nearly every male villager into a character in his own right. In the local pub, for example, the camera pans across the faces of everyone present, firmly establishing their local importance. The narrator too is influential in lending the film a nostalgic touch. When the camera zeroes in on one person in particular, the narrator will utter a few lines about the person. In this way viewers are introduced to the bartender, the preacher, the railroad ticket-taker, the blacksmith, the neurological war casualty, and the village's identical "teched" idiots. Every bucketfull of dirt is important, the film seems to say, and every carrier is playing a crucial role in the establishment of Fillan Garoo as an official mountain.
A comical sub-plot develops around the villagers' attempts to keep the English mapmakers in town until the hill has reached its critical level. The villagers do everything they can think of, from slashing tires and dissasembling Anson's automobile to feigning ignorance about the existence of outbound trains. Another plot twist comes from Mother Nature. Rain sets in just as Fillan Garoo has reached the 993 foot mark and a great deal of hard physical labor is washed downhill. This event is taken particularly harshly by the local shell-shocked "Johnny," who flashes back to the muddy trenches of World War I. (It is hard to imagine a more dramatic way to illustrate the damaging effects of a little rain.)
The Englishman is an excellent film, although it does leave some questions unanswered. For starters: Where are all the local women? If all of the village's young men are away fighting the Germans, then why are there so many able-bodied men left in the town? Women are all but nonexistent in the film. Although wives are shown carrying dirt alongside their husbands, only one female character is given a personality. Even then, Miss Elizabeth (Tara Fitzgerald) does not appear until the end, when her flirtatious personality is called upon to provide a reason for Anson to stick around another day. But even with this gender bias, The Englishman provides a pleasing portrait of a provincial pocket of Welsh patriarchy.Copyright 19,95, The Tech. All rights reserved.
This story was published on .
Volume 115, Number 24.
This story appeared on page 8.
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