Jul 3, 2015

[Movies] The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill But Came Down A Mountain (1995)

Let's get this out of the way right now - I sought out this movie because it involved Colm Meaney, who played Chief O'Brien on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. I think it also got featured as a part of some documentary, but at the moment I can't remember which one. So I was actually one of the few people who got into this movie and were surprised by the fact that Hugh Grant (a) was in it and (b) had top billing.

The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill But Came Down A Mountain is a movie with a rather long title that happens to be about a very long "title" of sorts for a person. It seems like a rather silly premise to develop a movie around, but it's actually quite charming, as is often the case among many movies that come out of the UK.

There are a lot of British movies that seem to focus around small communities doing great things - something that I suppose reflects how this little country has had to do some great things against more challenging odds. It does make for a good story medium - everyone appreciates a good underdog after all, right?

Synopsis: The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill But Came Down A Mountain is a 1995 British movie directed by Christopher Monger. Monger contributed to the screenplay together with Ifor David Monger and Ivor Monger. The story is actually based on the real village of Taff's Well, although in the movie things are set in the fictional town of Ffynnon Garw.

It's 1917 and World War I is a very real thing. But in the small Welsh town of Ffynnon Garw, they're still rather far away from all the action. Instead the big event is when two cartographers, George Garrad (Ian McNiece) and Reginald Anson (Hugh Grant) come to the town to measure the mountain they're most famous for. However based on their measurements, it seems that it's only a hill since it has not attained the minimum height of 1000 feet.  The townsfolk are naturally outraged that their beloved mountain is bound to be dismissed as a lesser land formation based on a technicality.

Thus Morgan the Goat (Colm Meaney) rallies the townsfolk to work together to start to stack up earth on the peak of the mountain in order to create a bit of a cairn that will be just high enough to get to the required 1000 feet mark. Thus they start to carry up buckets of earth in the hopes of building their mountain, in a manner of speaking. And of course they need to get all this done before the cartographers leave - a task that will require other distractions in order to keep the men in town.

The movie first begins with a bit of a statement of the number of rather common names that circulate around England. It certainly set a nice tone for things at the start of the movie, but it also felt like a concept that was rather forgotten. Then again, I suppose you could say that it was largely a framing mechanism of sort - like how a fairy tale begins with "Once upon a time" and ends with "And they lived happily ever after" or something like that.

It was weird to me to consider Hugh Grant to be the lead actor in this movie. If anything it felt a lot more like an ensemble piece with several key members of the town having a bit more of a voice than others, but not to a significant enough degree to warrant them being called leading players. To argue that Grant was the lead character feels like arguing the priest could have been the lead as well.

But all that is beside the point - this was a movie about a community coming together to achieve a goal. Their biggest obstacle apart from just the effort of bringing up all that earth and dirt was probably the weather threatening to wash out their flimsy little structure. There were a few character stories here and there and I suppose that still added to the narrative of things but at the end of the day you only really care about the darn mountain. Or should we say the hill that wanted to be a mountain?

Sure Hugh Grant gets a romantic comedy sub-plot that isn't quite Notting Hill but it has him doing his general best to be very awkwardly charming. After all, they needed a way to delay the little cartography team from leaving the town and what better way than a bit of romance, yes? But it didn't feel like a core part of the whole story, or at least it wasn't a part of the story that was significantly developed or something. It was there. It happened. I still don't think it deserved to become a focus of the movie poster or something like that.

The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill But Came Down A Mountain is just charming and quaint and all those other adjectives that tend to apply to small towns. It's not a bad movie - it's more like the sort of thing you'd watch on a lazy weekend afternoon and possibly not finish because you dozed off. So the movie gets 3 funny quirks of the town out of a possible 5.

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