Title: The Hippopotamus
Director: John Jencks
Starring: Roger Allam, Tim Charles, Rod Glenn
Runtime: 89 Mins
What It Is: Roger Allam stars in this brand new adaptation of the Stephen Fry novel about lapsed poet and disgraced theatre critic Ted Wallace, who is summoned to his friends’ Lord and Lady Logan’s Norfolk manor to investigate supposed unexplained miracle healings. Ted easily whittles the culprit down to be his fifteen year old godson David. Being someone who is passionate for the truth, Ted seeks to debunk the “miracles” and save the young man from a lifetime of embarrassment.
What We Think: Do miracles exist? For the slightly unhinged Logan family they certainly do, and they are adamant to share their gift with the world. However, cynical former playwright and poet Ted Wallace (Allam) has no time for such claptrap.
This adaptation is unmistakably driven by Fry’s obsession with PG Wodehouse, and the foul-mouthed cheery wit is off the scale here. It has the air of an old fashioned Merchant Ivory production about it, complete with posh people, rolling hills, horses etc., but all this is served up with acidic humour which is delivered so well by the cast.
After Ted loses his job as a pompous theatre critic he turns to Whiskey, and lots of it, but is soon greeted by his god-daughter Jane (Berrington) who offers him a handsome sum to visit her estranged family. There he is ordered to investigate the apparent miracle. Jane explains that her family thinks their fifteen year old son David has healing powers.
It is unapologetically British, with the eccentric cast of supporting characters including familiar names from UK Film and TV. They each give broad performances that sometimes make the film feel like a stage production of sorts, in the sense that they are all projecting their voices to the man at the back of the theatre, and this was a little bit of an issue for me.
With Ted’s boozy narration and rambling manner he initially feels like the last man up to the task of the investigation, however in the same way that his cynicism starts to give way, The Hippopotamus starts to win us over as we become endeared to Ted’s ineptitude as a detective, made able to see underneath the caustic observations that he is actually quite lonely.
Our Grade: B-, Simply but competently directed, this film will never be able to compete with the likes of Withnail & I which for my money is the very epitome of the ‘drunken Brit comedy genre’ but it does have enough craft and sauciness to justify the admission fee.