Film Review: Archipelago

23 March 2011


Joanna Hogg – 15 – 115 mins

Arts Picturehouse

Prematurely middle-aged man takes holiday with materially satisfied but emotionally repressed family; family attempts to maintain decorum while underlying tensions of the absent father simmer threateningly. Man faces crisis of identity and decides to take belated Gap Yah. Man is called Edward. Doesn’t it all sound terribly middle-class.

Yet this is the unashamed truth behind Joanna Hogg’s film: unforgiving, unrelenting reality. I couldn’t possibly say I actually liked Archipelago. At the time it felt inanely long, and as a rule I wouldn’t recommend any film in which I looked at my watch more than twice, but perhaps this can be the exception. For it is unendurable not for any dullness, but for the sheer discomfort of its familiarity. The blunderingly compassionate Edward (Tom Hiddleston), his viciously self-righteous sister (Lydia Leonard) and their pathetically sensitive mother (Kate Fahy) contain fragments of personalities that can be seen on every street in Comfortable Suburbia. Hogg invites us to mock them, and then realise that we are mocking ourselves. The nervous tension is completely infectious.

For she unsettles even with her cinematic technique: the characters are forbidden the sympathy of a well-timed close-up or a carefully selected soundtrack. And we miss the comfort of this convention too. The actors are working within a fixed frame as the camera remains stationary, cutting from shot to shot like a series of moving portraits .There is nothing to ease the transition from scene to scene and neither is there music to aid the often stilting dialogue: silence is painful. The film does not lack beauty: the acting is pitch-perfect in its realism and some of Hogg’s shots are breathtaking in their own right. The rest are affecting for their wilful discomfort. Archipelago is a masterpiece of considered clumsiness. It’s certainly one to watch, though when disintegration is contagious, perhaps just the once. No man wants to be an island.

Rachel Wilkinson

Image: Artificial Eye Film