Based on the novel by British comedian, polymath and TV presenter Stephen Fry, The Hippopotamus takes the piss out of the country-house films and TV genre - Gosford Park, Downton Abbey: you may have heard of them.
Alcoholic former theatre critic Ted Wallace is invited - sort of - to the country house of former friend Michael Logan where all kinds of weird stuff seems to be going on. Much of it is centred round Ted’s godson (Russell Tovey), who seems to be able to perform miracles and who is possibly the only person left in England who respects Ted as the poet he once was.
Directed by relative newcomer John Jencks, the film is in many ways an actors’ piece, with an excellent cast, including John Standing as one of those elderly retainers without whom no country house would be complete; Tim McInnerny as a camp poet; and Matthew Modine as a Thatcherite billionaire.
The settings are picture-book English. The story is outrageous. But what makes the film unforgettable is a towering performance by Roger Allam, a much respected stage actor best known to moviegoers for playing the womanising writer in Stephen Frears’ Tamara Drewe. Rarely off-screen and glorying a character whose view of human nature would make Machiavelli seem saintly, Allam delivers Fry’s flowery dialogue with evident relish.
Warning: there is a lot of bad language in The Hippopotamus, all of it delivered with relish.