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6 March 2011

Playing Scilly Buggers

I almost went to see Archipelago yesterday instead of The Adjustment Bureau but I usually have a stronger desire to see a thriller than an uncomfortable, upper-middle-class farce set in the Isles of Scilly. However, I saw the trailer for Archipelago a few weeks ago and even though I wasn't quite sure I got it (I certainly didn't get the dynamics of who was related to whom from the trailer), I was interested enough to see the film, which appears onto be showing in Curzon cinemas at the moment.

The plot, bare-bones as it is, is as follows: Patricia and her two adult children are staying in a holiday cottage on the Isles of Scilly as a farewell trip for Edward, the son, who is about to go off to Africa to save children from AIDS. The father is also supposed to show up but doesn't, to the annoyance of Patricia. They do have a father figure in the form of a man who is teaching Patricia and her daughter Cynthia to paint. They also have a pretty, young cook to cater to their every whim (something else that causes Edward's conscience to prick). They do very little: the occasional walk, a picnic, a disastrous lunch out, some painting and lots of sitting around talking and, eventually, arguing.

Most of the interior shots of the house are very dark and it can be hard to see the characters' expressions very well; this contrasts sharply with the lush, verdant Scillian vegetation in the outside world. There's also no music in the film, which means that every little sound, every niggling annoyance, every snipe and and every sneer is picked up and carried loud and clear. And the characters aren't very nice to each other. Cynthia criticises her brother's decision to take off for a "late gap year" (even more awkwardly, she also criticises her guinea fowl when they go out to lunch--she tells the chef it is undercooked and "frankly, dangerous" when he had only cooked it as guinea fowl should be cooked). Edward isn't really sure he wants to go to Africa without his girlfriend for 11 months and he's not sure he's doing the right thing. Patricia desperately wants some co-parenting from her husband but their phone calls--we can only hear her half--seem only to madden her more.

This film was about 20 minutes too long but only because 1 h 55 of awkwardness is quite a lot to bear, particularly when you are somewhat concerned that you may actually resemble the horrible Cynthia (deriding younger brother's life choices--check; pseudo-passive manipulations to get the better bedroom--check; sulking when ganged up on by the whole family--check). Well, at least until the point when she complains about her lunch; after that, I decided we weren't quite so similar after all. Given how little actually happens, the amount of detail is impressive. We see Rose the cook talking to a fisherman about how to tell the difference between male and female lobsters and then later talking to a game-keeper about preparing pheasant, or whatever game he has fetched. These interludes form a welcome relief from the House of Drama because although it would be unfair to say I didn't like Archipelago, I'm not sure how much I really enjoyed it.

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