Archipelago: Film Review

A family in crisis, not that you learn much about it.

Filmed in permanent twilight with a static camera and no music, the British film is gloomy and unrewarding with an oblique and uninformative script from director Joanna Hogg.

LONDON – Joanna Hogg’s Archipelagois a dispiriting drama about a well-educated but inarticulate upper middle class English family that threatens to come apart at the seams while on holiday. Filmed in permanent twilight with a static camera and no music, it is gloomy and unrewarding with an oblique and uninformative script. Playing emotionally constipated characters, the actors improvise much of the dialogue. Prospects beyond audiences happy to suffer for a dose of sedate Englishness are as dim as the film’s lighting.

The story is set on one of the Isles of Scilly off the U.K. south coast where Patricia (Kate Fahy), her grown daughter Cynthia (Lydia Leonard) and son Edward (Tom Hiddleston, soon to be seen in Thor) have gathered for a winterish holiday in a cottage where they spent a lot of time when the children were growing up.

Edward is a spineless chap, who has quit his banking job to spend 11 months in Africa doing something to help with the AIDs crisis. He’s not sure what he will do but he’s sure it will be worth it.

He is so cowed by his brittle older sister that he has not brought along his long time girlfriend even though he won’t see her for almost a year. Missing from the gathering is their father to whom Patricia whines constantly in a series of one-sided phone calls.

For some reason, Patricia has hired a pretty cook named Rose (Amy Lloyd) for the two weeks. Also involved with the family is Christopher (Christopher Baker), a painter who is giving the mother art lessons. They have meals and go on treks and picnics as the wind blows and the conversation dwindles.

The screenplay is full of halted utterances and half-finished statements as if the family members have never exchanged words with anybody, let alone each other. Clearly envious, Cynthia regards her brother’s decision to sally off to Africa as cavalier and makes sure that he gets to stay in the cramped top-floor bedroom while she has a large double room to herself. She has insisted that Edward’s girlfriend should not be there because while he has been with her for 18 months, she’s not really part of the family.

Edward dithers and burns inwardly and while he seems attracted to the comely and sensible Rose, he’s too timid to make a move. Cynthia comes out every now and then with something bratty while Christopher blithers a considerable amount of tosh about how important it is to capture chaos in paintings, and mom reaches for the phone.

Cinematographer Ed Rutherford manages to make the attractive Scilly Isles countryside singularly uninviting and there is apparently no electricity as every scene is shot in near darkness. How poor Rose manages to cook with hardly any light is a mystery, but so is the point of the film as Hogg makes it very difficult to take an interest in the characters let alone care about them.

Opened in the U.K. on March 4
Production company: Wild Horses
Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Kate Fahy, Lydia Leonard, Christopher Baker, Amy Lloyd
Director, screenwriter: Joanna Hogg
Producer: Gayle Griffiths
Director of photography: Ed Rutherford
Production/costume designer: Stephane Collonge
Editor: Helle Le Fevre
Sales: Wild Horses
No rating, 114 minutes