tue 16/07/2024

DVD: Archipelago | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Archipelago

DVD: Archipelago

Repression, resentment and rage: Joanna Hogg's latest dispatch from the bourgeois frontline

Alone together: Baker, Fahy, Lloyd, Leonard and Hiddleston in 'Archipelago'Artificial Eye

At the end of Joanna Hogg’s acutely observed drama of bourgeois manners, Patricia (Kate Fahy) and her grown-up children Cynthia (Lydia Leonard) and Edward (Tom Hiddleston) restore to the living-room wall of their Scilly Isles holiday house a painting they’d removed for being “rather horrible".

It turns out to be a dark, stormy seascape - a metaphor not only for their miserable vacation, which had been intended to give Edward a happy send-off to Africa where he is (or was) to work as a sexual-reproduction health volunteer during his gap year, but also for the family's compatability. William, the patriarch, never even shows up - does he have a mistress or does he simply value equanimity?

Cynthia’s disparagement of Edward and banning of his girlfriend from the holiday, and her determined passive-aggressiveness, evidenced when she ruins a restaurant outing by wrongly complaining about an undercooked guinea fowl, hint at deep depression. She “learned” it, perhaps, from Patricia, whose marriage to William is clearly disastrous. Edward may be nicer than his mum and sister - “He’s got just too much empathy,” says Patricia when he shows consideration to the hired cook, Rose (Amy Lloyd), whom Cynthia wants to keep in her place - but he’s also a wishy-washy appeaser.

For comforting conversation he turns to Rose, who holds a soupçon of lower-middle-class allure for him, and for paternal guidance to Christopher, Patricia’s art teacher. This unflappable family friend (played by the landscape artist Christopher Baker), who generously compares his own youth to Edward’s and tells him to toughen up, is Hogg’s surrogate; Rose, the embarrassed outsider, privy to two screaming matches, is the audience’s.

Gruelling though Archipelago sounds - the title is another metaphor, for the disconnectedness of the closely related - it exerts a powerful anthropological fascination, which has its own joys. Hogg, writer-director of the like-minded Brits-in-Tuscany holiday story Unrelated (2007), has a brilliant ear for platitudinous exchanges that mask the diffidence and anxiety of the terminally repressed. Her wanly beautiful compositions, the interiors redolent of those painted by the Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershøi, are pregnant with loneliness and loss, their order barely concealing the chaos that Christopher aspires to as an artist. Though her films aren’t obviously philosophical, they suggest an English Rohmer is at work - an enticing prospect.

Watch the trailer to Archipelago

Hogg has a brilliant ear for platitudinous exchanges that mask the diffidence and anxiety of the terminally repressed

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