The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain

(Christopher Monger, UK, 1995)


Everything I disliked about John Sayles’ The Secret of Roan Inish (1994) returns to irritate me tenfold in The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain: a romantic infatuation with the oral tradition of storytelling and the simple-times-gone-by; a supposedly timeless tale of stock-of-the-earth folk; a tiny amount of nationalist politics amid a horrible excess of cuteness.

This slight tale of Welsh life starts off charmingly enough. Two English cartographers, Anson (Hugh Grant) and Garrad (Ian McNeice), declare that the jewel of Ffynnon Garw’s landscape is technically a hill and not a mountain. So the townsfolk, led by Morgan the Goat (Colm Meaney) decide to add the extra elevation.

Torrential rain interrupts and a deadline looms, but happiness for all is a tiresomely foregone conclusion to this little adventure.

The film quickly becomes twee, repetitive and monotonous. One-dimensional characters such as the thundering old Reverend Jones (Kenneth Griffith) and the shy, mentally retarded Johnny Shellshocked (Ian Hart) are amusing on first glimpse. But they run through the same, cardboard routine so many times that, when the film finally tries to turn them into creatures of pathos, it is hard to care. Stephen Endelman’s music score provides a similar instance of flat, attention-draining repetition.

This movie is being billed, rather incredibly, as a romantic comedy. The romantic thread, which re-teams Grant and his Sirens (1994) co-star Tara Fitzgerald, is the thinnest aspect of a very thin film. I heard Grant boast on a television talk show that he was especially proud of this project. One wouldn’t have guessed this from his performance, which is a mere sleepwalk through the actor’s standard tics and mannerisms.

Writer-director Christopher Monger, who first learned of this local legend from his grandfather, declares the film to be his Welsh homecoming. Unfortunately it is vastly inferior to his American work, such as the Jane Campion-influenced Waiting for the Light (1990).

The Englishman … presumes to evoke and celebrate nationalist pride in the face of English invaders but – and this is perhaps its most annoying aspect – can offer only an endless parade of idealised Welsh eccentrics who seem to have been plucked from a second-rate fairy tale.

© Adrian Martin November 1995

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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