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Hippopotamus, The


Stars: Roger Allam, Fiona Shaw, Sebastian Croft, Matthew Modine, Tim McInnerny, Geraldine Somerville, Emily Berrington, Lyne Renee, Dean Ridge, John Standing

Director: John Jencks

Why this adaptation of Stephen Fry's novel has to be so appallingly obscene is worth querying, since there's actually a droll and could-be witty parable struggling to get out of what emerges as very nearly a sick-making disaster. The first five minutes in particular are enough to make most hurry away early to the nearest exit.

The great Roger Allam (best known to most today as DCI Thursday from TV's Endeavour series) is more than somewhat demeaned by having to play such an offensive character as alcoholic ex-poet Ted Wallace, and yet without him the film would be a complete write-off.

As it is, even the not-easily offended will find some of the goings-on here enough to engender at least a frown or a raised eyebrow. The gross remarks made by Mcinnerny as raging queen Oliver Mills, for example, would surely never be uttered, even under the influence of wine, at a dinner party attended by teenagers.

Mills is just one of the obnoxious nobs at stately Swafford Hall, to which Wallace is sent by his goddaughter Jane (Berrington), now apparently cured of her leukemia, to investigate the legitimacy of the 'miracles' performed by the youngest son (Croft) of aristocratic owners Michael and Anne Logan (Modine, Shaw), of which Jane seems to be the latest recipient.

If it were not obsessed with sex in its lowest personifications, however, there are hints in the dialogue of the film that might have been. Ted describes 'It's on me!' as 'one of the finest phrases in the English language' and greets the arrival of an ex-flame (Somerville) with a withering 'If you're here Rebecca, who's looking after Narnia?'

He also says 'Hopefully, it was the sound of the plot thickening', to which we can all offer a hearty amen. As it is, faced with such appalling characters, all the cast struggle, with the partial exception of our invaluable leading man.

David Quinlan

UK 2016. UK Distributor: Miracle Comms (Electric Shadow). Colour by Arri.
90 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 2, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 3.

Review date: 29 May 2017