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October 24, 2011

Archipelago (2010)
Director: Joanna Hogg
Actors: Tom Hiddleston, Lydia Leonard, Amy Lloyd

Archipelago-003.jpg (140×84)

Synopsis: The tensions in a British middle-class family slowly materialise during a holiday on the Scilly Isles.

Review: Championed as the new shining light of British cinema after her debut film, Unrelated, Joanna Hogg has returned with her much-anticipated follow-up, which once again charts the dysfunctions of a middle-class set of Brits in a holiday location (this time it’s the Scilly Isles, in Unrelated it was Tuscany). I was one of the non-believers amid all the hype over Unrelated, seeing her cinema as excessively literary and theatrical, and not much has changed for Archipelago. Again, the film is a none-too-subtle exercise in subtext, with the central thesis being that the British middle classes are an unhappy bunch. It all feels a little received and pretentious, with an air of the ‘actors workshop’ that I noted in some sections of Unrelated.

That said, I concede that Archipelago has its moments and is inarguably better than Unrelated. The Scilly Isles make for a more pictorally and dramatically atypical location than Tuscany, and the focus on the neuroses of a whole family is more convincing than the relatively simple target of Unrelated‘s insecure female protagonist – in particular, it’s nice to see Tom Hiddleston play against his caddish norm as the vulnerable son. And the middle-class thesis is played out a touch more sophisticatedly here – instead of the flat assertion of Unrelated that the middle-classes are ‘dysfunctional’, we see more clearly how the complex bindings of money, parental divorce and material expectation can hamper a seemingly perfect British family. (October 2011)

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