Film review: The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain (1995), directed by Christopher Monger
In the rolling hills of south Wales is a little village called Ffynnon Garw (pronounced “Fynnan Gaah-row”) nestled next to a great big hill – or mountain, if you listen to the locals. It’s 1917 and two cartographers from England come to town to measure Ffynnon Garw to determine if it’s a mountain or in fact only a hill. To be a mountain it has to be at least 1000 feet tall. As it turns out, the village’s pride and joy comes up 16 feet too short, and the village is outraged.
As rules are rules, and the rules say that a mountain needs to be over 1000 ft, the villagers decide to build a 20-foot cairn up top. They just need to get the cartographers to stick around long enough for them to finish so it can be re-measured …
The film is apparently based on a story the director’s grandfather used to tell about a (real) village, on the slopes of Garth Hill – or, actually, Garth Mountain (it’s 1007 ft) – which was used in the film. Ffynnon Garw is fictional, but as the film was filmed on the Garth, it’s now a popular tourist location.
As far as the film goes, the story centres around the innkeeper Morgan the Goat (Colm Meaney) and the Reverend Jones (Kenneth Griffith), who are constantly at odds with one another. Morgan’s womanising ways are in no way something a clergyman can look on favourably, put it that way. He seems to have fathered half the kids in the village while husbands are off fighting in World War I.
The cartographers – Garrad (Ian McNeice) and his assistant Anson (Hugh Grant) – are as alien to the Welsh as you can be. Garrad is a pompous fool who has travelled the world and wants nothing better than to get back on the road so he can get back to London as soon as possible. Anson, on the other hand, finds Wales to be increasingly endearing. Or maybe that’s just because he’s taken a shine to Betty (Tara Fitzgerald)?
Another person I’d like to mention here is Ian Hart, as Johnny Shellshocked – a young man who was traumatised by the war and came back to Wales hardly uttering a syllable to anyone. Solid performance, but I’ve come to expect that off him. Which in a way is funny, because it’s not as if I’ve seen him in a load of different things – the most famous of which is probably as Professor Quirrell in the first Harry Potter film.
Grant is your typical mid-1990s Hugh Grant – the same sort of character he played in Four Weddings, Notting Hill and … well, anything else he’s ever been in, really. (Save for possibly Bridget Jones – he’s less bumbling in that one.) Funnily enough, the Fitzgerald/Grant pairing is technically a re-run of Sirens (1993), but with Fitzgerald’s character not being a vicar’s timid wife. Betty is a lot more in your face.
It’s not a film for those expecting big guffaws and laugh-out-loud hilarity, because it’s more quiet and laid back. It’s amusing, and it’s fun to follow the quirky inhabitants of a country village, but it’s not going to have you in stitches. For a nice little feel-good film, this is good, but that’s about it. It’s pretty average and most of it is pretty forgettable, I’m sad to say.
3 out of 5 dug-up rugby pitches.