Saturday 20 January 2018

Movies: Archipelago ***

(15A, limited release)

Paul Whitington

English filmmaker Joanna Hogg's follow-up to her acclaimed debut Unrelated continues her preoccupation with families, and the primordial tensions that simmer beneath the surface of sibling and parental relationships. A mother called Patricia (Katy Fahy) has rented a house on the Scilly Isles with her two grown-up children, Edward (Tom Hiddleston) and Cynthia (Lydia Leonard). The ostensible purpose is to give Edward a "good send-off" as he's about to spend a year doing aid work in Africa, and Patricia's remote, workaholic husband is supposed to be joining them.

But he will let them down, one suspects not for the first time, and what initially seems a cosy, middle-class family unit is soon revealed as damaged. Cynthia's anger with her father finds a focus in her dreamy brother Edward, who's an infuriatingly right-on vegetarian whose motives for his journey seem woolly at best. Patricia has sublimated her anger and, as a result, grows depressed. And in the middle of it all is the young woman (Amy Lloyd) who's been hired to cook and clean for them.

Hogg has been likened to Eric Rohmer, and the comparison is not entirely fanciful. She shows great nerve in letting her story unfold without an artificial dramatic imperative, and the simmering tensions of the family are juxtaposed with the sleepy peace of the surrounding landscape. In the end, perhaps, there's insufficient character development or resolution, and audiences might need more than this in order to properly care. But there's real style to the way Hogg keeps an impassive distance from her characters, as though they're being watched by a bird, or a stone.

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