A country manor mystery that's actually a deliciously wicked comedy of manners, The Hippopotamus is a rollicking adaptation of the best-selling novel by Stephen Fry. It centers on a lapsed poet, failed drama critic, redundant husband and hard-working drunk, Ted Wallace (the mellifluously voiced Roger Allam in a rare starring role). Fired from his newspaper job, Ted leaps at the chance to drown his sorrows at his old friend's country estate, Swafford Hall. A series of spiritual healings have recently put the household in a tizzy. The purported miracle worker is his hosts' teenage son, Ted's godson, David (Tommy Knight). Lord and Lady Logan are set on sharing their boy's "gift" with the world, blissfully unaware that his "laying on of hands" trick involves, well, an emphasis on "laying." At odds with a colorful party of fellow guests only too ready to swallow anything they're told, Ted sets out to prove the miracles are a hoax and save the young man from a lifetime of embarrassment.Written by
Roger Allam and Sir John Standing appeared in V for Vendetta (2005) and Game of Thrones (2011). See more »
T. S. Eliot said that the purpose of literature was to turn blood into ink. Well, I tried that. I published five collections of poetry in eight years and I bled like a hemophiliac. Then, somewhere along the way, the blood finally clotted. Over time, the scab became a scar, and now I can scarcely feel the wound. All the arteries and veins are dried out. I no longer turn blood into ink. These days, I turn whiskey into journalism. I haven't written a poem since 1987.
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Not for those with limited vocabulary or prose experience
The average American lexicon is insufficient to catch the full meaning of the various diatribes the protagonist goes on. He is impish and bitter about the mundane nature of survival.
The work of the original author (Stephan Fry) shines through at times, but the script writer left muddy finger prints trying to keep the story moving and to fit studio norms & marketing expectations. The shift in writing style is jarring at times. It is only by the grace of Roger Allam's talented performance that the movie succeeds for 3 of the 8 stars I am giving it. Roger Allam is very good at playing a pompous intellectual who has become cynical and critical of all (see him in 'V" and other works).
The casting is a hack job which sabotaged the film, but thanks to the strength of the story it was not mortally wounded. And while I like Mathew Modine in other work, he was a bad choice as incompatible with the film's director. Almost every other performance is completely forgettable .
The good news is that the 'Mystery at the Mansion' is such an easy type to make and sell that the industry can hardly turnout a bad one these days. And the genre is very popular along the North Atlantic... and for the Genre, it is fabulous and respectful of the formula.
At no point does it get too bogged down building a single character or story element, and blooms like a flower towards it's bittersweet end.
There are several morals to the story made in a very 'cheeky' manor, which many will miss without prior experience with Fry's work, although experience with his former subversive comedy conspirator Hugh Laurie will be helpful.
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