Glasgow Film Theatre, 04.03.11

I’ve had vouchers to use at the lovely GFT since my birthday last October, so with a day off work I decided to take a trip into the big city and take in Joanna Hogg’s film, Archipelago.

I haven’t seen Joanna Hogg’s first film, Unrelated, so went into this a completely blank page, and then left with mixed feelings.  On the positive side, this is a mature film, dealing with mature characters and themes, and  its simplicity of style and structure allows the viewer to contemplate the themes of family relations, friendship, growing up, growing old, art and life as events slowly unfold and relationships unravel.  The setting is the Scilly Isles where Mother Patricia (Kate Fahy) spends a final family holiday with her children Edward (Tom Hiddleston) and Cynthia (Lydia Leonard), their cook Rose (Amy Lloyd) and the island’s local painter, Christopher (Christopher Baker), before Edward is to depart for a year’s volunteering work in Africa.  The simmering issues between the upper class family, including the absent father provide mounting tension as Edward worries if he is making the right choice, while bonding with Rose, much to Cynthia annoyance.

But herein lies my first problem with the film.  The issues that this family have to deal with seem rather irrelevant given the issues that most of us have to deal with in our daily lives, to the point that they come across as a rather wet, whining, pathetic bunch.  Patricia towards the end of the film finally breaks down and berates the absent father for not coming to join them on their holiday as he has been stuck in work, bemoaning that she has had “to raise two children on her own”.  Well, yes.  On the other hand, she hasn’t had to worry about money, has a well off way of life, hasn’t had to work a job herself and can afford a regular holiday home in the Scilly Isles.  It doesn’t appear to have been the hardest of lives.  Compare this to the families with two working parents on average incomes and it suddenly seems arather ungrateful argument.  Edward too is torn between taking a year out and leaving his girlfriend to go to Africa, or staying home and getting a job, while wandering round the island trying to find some meaning in his life.  The very fact he is in the position that he can afford to take a year out while living off the parents money doesn’t seem to be seen as a lucky privilege to him, only a burden.

Technically the film suffers from a reliance on natural or on set lighting, so when sitting in a corner of a room with only a side lamp on, most of the screen, and crucially throughout, the actor’s faces are lost in murky darkness.  Whether a stylistic point from the director to emphasise the masked or repressed feelings of the upper class, or due simply to a lack of budget, I couldn’t help but wish someone would turn a light on!  Much of the dialogue is unscripted or semi-improvised, which means a lot of halting, awkward conversations.  Again, this could perfectly sum up the relationship between these characters, but more often leads to infuriating twaddle being spoken, repetition and a desire from this viewer for conversations just to get to the point!

There are some nice touches and scenes, notably the old British favourite of complaining about poor service and food in a restaurant, but overall I was left with an overriding feeling of ‘so what’ by the end of the film.  Still, thanks to the wonderful GFT matinee price of £4, I still have plenty of vouchers left.

Film Rating: 2.5 out of 5

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