The Englishman Who Went up a Hill but Came down a Mountain
United Kingdom/United States, 1995
U.S. Release Date:
Theatrical Aspect Ratio:
Hugh Grant, Colm Meaney, Tara Fitzgerald, Ian McNeice, Kenneth Griffith, Ian Hart, Robert Pugh
Christopher Monger based on the story told by Ivor Monger
The title of this film, The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain, is so long that it can function as a plot synopsis in its own right. "The Englishman" in question is British cartographer Reginald Anson, played by Hugh Grant with his usual aw-shucks charm, and "the hill/mountain" is Ffynnon Garw, a 984-foot high protuberance in the Welsh terrain. In 1917, as World War One is winding to a conclusion, Anson arrives in Wales with his commanding officer, George Garrad (Ian McNeice), to survey Ffynnon Garw's height. When the mountain is measured at less than the 1000 feet necessary for official recognition as more than a hill, the locals are up in arms. Horrified by the thought that the "first mountain in Wales" might be considered anything less than grand, they decide to build a twenty foot high dirt mound at the summit, then get the measurement repeated. As an inducement to keep the two Englishmen in town until the construction is complete, a young woman, Betty of Cardiff (Tara Fitzgerald), is called upon to use all her wiles and charms. And, just in case Betty isn't persuasive enough, the visitors' car is sabotaged.
It's rare that a movie owes this much of its success to its director and stars. The storyline for The Englishman isn't all that dynamic and the screenplay is rather bland. However, using the acting skills and natural charisma of Hugh Grant, Tara Fitzgerald, and Colm Meaney, director Christopher Monger has compiled a wonderfully droll comedy. For the most part, the humor is witty, not laugh-aloud funny. Chuckles and smiles can be expected, but not explosive guffaws. The Englishman is low-key in all aspects, from the comic elements to the love story.
Frankly, Grant and Fitzgerald (who were also paired in John Duigan's erotic Sirens) do a lot more with the relationship than the script provides. Without the chemistry between them, this part of the movie would have been a complete throw-away, limiting the production's appeal. Love, after all, makes for the perfect icing on Ffynnon Garw's cake.
The supporting cast, comprised primarily of character actors, is solid. Colm Meaney, best known to American audiences from his work in two Star Trek series, plays a self-serving pub owner who advocates adding to the mountain so he can sell beer to the thirsty workers. Kenneth Griffith is wonderful as the crotchety old reverend who sees Ffynnon Garw's height as a matter of theological importance. Ian McNeice finds the right mix of pomposity and superciliousness as Garrad, and Robert Pugh plays a far less menacing role than the one he took on in Priest (where he was an incestuous father).
The Englishman is framed as a true story told to a child and, as was the case with The Princess Bride, this is the best way to establish the somewhat fanciful narrative. The picture has some things to say about the importance of community and the desultory effects of war, but its primary concern is lightening the heart's burden -- a job at which it is eminently successful, regardless of how mountainous the task proves to be.