Los Angeles Times

The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain


Friday May 12, 1995

     "The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain" is an ungainly title for a light romantic trifle. It is, fortunately, the only cumbersome thing about this genteel crackup of a comedy, both deft and daft, that knows exactly how to do exactly what it is doing.
     Cumbersome though it is, that title is fitting, because it reflects the quirky character of the Welsh village (here called Ffynnon Garw) where writer-director Christopher Monger grew up. It was a place where most everyone had appellations attached to their names, like Williams the Petroleum, who owned the garage, Davies the School, who taught therein, and Tommy Twostroke, who had possession of the town's only motorbike.
     How then, young Monger once asked his grandfather, did a certain Mr. Anson come to be called the Englishman Who etc., etc.? The story he was told, a cherished local tale, is slight of plot, but so much wit and polish has gone into the telling that at its best "Englishman" recalls such cherished Ealing productions as "The Lavender Hill Mob" and "The Ladykillers" that made the 1950s the golden age of British comedy.
     Set in 1917, when World War I was at its height, the film begins with the arrival of not one but two thoroughly English gentlemen in Ffynnon Garw. George Garrad (Ian McNeice) and Reginald Anson (Hugh Grant) are a team of cartographers, intent on measuring any and all mountains but not particularly eager to be where they are. "Pleasant enough place," says Anson, with Garrad replying with equal dryness, "I suppose so, given that it's Wales."
     This constant English/Welsh sniping goes both ways, for the villagers are not particularly pleased to welcome these interlopers, especially when they realize they have come to measure the nearby summit, also named Ffynnon Garw, a source of intense local pride for being the first mountain inside the Welsh border.
     When it turns out, as drama dictates it must, that Ffynnon Garw is just a tad short of the 1,000 feet necessary to be classified a mountain on official maps, a fury envelopes the town. "How could we face those who survived the war," one man passionately puts it, "if we lost the mountain?"
     The threat of being dis-mountained even unites the unlikeliest allies, the fiery Rev. Jones (Kenneth Griffith), the guardian of local morality, and the biggest sinner around, innkeeper Morgan the Goat (Colm Meaney), who has taken unfair romantic advantage of the village's wartime lack of able-bodied men.
     The idea is to do everything possible to delay the departure of the Englishmen until Ffynnon Garw can be somehow reconfigured and then remeasured. And everything includes getting the help of such village characters as the touched twins Thomas Twp and Thomas Twp, Too and the recruiting of local beauty Betty of Cardiff (Tara Fitzgerald, currently playing Ophelia to Ralph Fiennes' Hamlet in New York) to beguile the gentlemen's time.
     Picking up where he left off in "Four Weddings and a Funeral," Hugh Grant proves that he has no current rivals in playing boyish, self-deprecatory, easily flustered and generally abashed young men who are awfully cute in the bargain. His performance is completely charming and nicely balances the work of Colm Meaney (familiar from "The Commitments" and "The Snapper") as the rough but canny Morgan.
     Although writer-director Monger has worked in Hollywood without creating a stir, returning to his native Wales has proved a revivifying experience. "Englishmen" is notable for the pleasure it takes in language of all types, from the witty spoken word to the feast of knowing looks and smiles its characters indulge themselves in. Movies like this must be done just right to succeed, and, except for that title, "Englishman" has everything under the best kind of control.

The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain, 1995. PG, for mild language. Tara Fitzgerald Betty of Cardiff Colm Meaney: Morgan the Goat Ian McNeice: George Garrad Ian Hart: Johnny Shellshocked Kenneth Griffith: Rev. Jones Released by Miramax Pictures. Director Christopher Monger. Producer Sarah Curtis. Executive producers Sally Hibbin, Robert Jones, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein. Screenplay Christopher Monger. Cinematographer Vernon Layton. Editor David Martin. Costumes Janty Yates. Music Stephen Endelman. Production design Charles Garrad. Art director Chris Lowe. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes. Hugh Grant as Reginald Anson.

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