In this scenic Joanna Hogg film, “Patricia” (Fahy) has brought her children to the island of Tresco (just off Cornwall) for yet another family vacation. But this time, despite the natural beauty she works hard to capture with her paint box, there is tension in the air. (JLH: 4/5)
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Written and directed by British filmmaker Joanna Hogg, Archipelago finds “Patricia” (Kate Fahy) painting stunning watercolors and seascapes while on vacation with her two adult children, “Cynthia” (Lydia Leonard) and “Edward” (Tom Hiddleston). They are on the island of Tresco, in the beautiful Isles of Scilly (just off the coast of Cornwall), but not everything on this family vacation is quite as harmonious as the landscape.
Tension brews between Edward (who is fresh out of university and preparing to leave soon for a “Gap Year” as a do-gooder in Africa) and Cynthia (who is older and already working at a “real” job).
So Edward turns to “Rose” (Amy Lloyd), who is there in the house to cook for them. Much to Cynthia’s dismay, Edward insists on treating Rose more like a family member than as someone hired to serve meals for the duration of their vacation. And his presence in the kitchen, where he even insists on helping with the after dinner clean-up, is equally disconcerting for Rose.
Patricia, burdened by a husband who keeps calling but never shows up in the flesh, escapes from her fussy children by focusing on her painting, working under the tutelage of an instructor -- and now friend -- named “Christopher” (played by Christopher Baker who really is a well-known painter). Through painting, Patricia does achieve some of the peacefulness that comes along with it, if only temporarily.
This is a quintessentially British drama, so sometimes it is slow, dry, and oblique. A lot of things are left unsaid and a lot of background is never provided. But the silent stretches of the film lend themselves to elegant storytelling, moving the film along without any of the usual dialogue that is often unnecessary anyway. Sometimes it really does ring false to the ear when characters known for their stiff upper lips are forced to speak their inner thoughts out loud for our benefit but not their own. So although Archipelago often feels very cold to the point of frigid, I was hypnotized by what was not said in the spaces between the lines that are.
Which brings us to the deliberate art of it all.
Archipelago is beautiful to look at, with people in nature carrying around the canvases on which they plan to paint. Landscapes are being painted by the various people who are painting them (usually Christopher, sometimes Patricia, and occasionally Cynthia), and each one is different.
The scenes of Christopher painting juxtaposed with what he is actually seeing in the landscape are fascinating. His paintings are abstract, figurative, and expressive. The way Christopher picks up on the colors of nature clearly depicts the metaphorical relationship between “art” and “reality.”
Joanna Hogg sees the colors of the relationships that are unfolding before her eyes, and she puts them on screen in the same way that Christopher takes the colors he sees in the natural world around him and transports them onto each canvas. Brava!
Review © Jan Lisa Huttner (7/4/14)
Top Photo: Kate Fahy as “Patricia” sketching with “Christopher” (played by British painter Christopher Baker).
Bottom Photo: "Edward" (Tom Hiddleston) comes to chat with Christopher while he as at work on one of his canvases.
Q #1: Does Archipelago pass the Bechdel Test?
Yes, but barely.
Although little conversational scenes between Patricia, Cynthia, and Rose (in some combination or another) are peppered through-out, at one point Cynthia has a meltdown, runs to her room, and slams the door shut. That’s when Patricia follows her up the stairs…
Q #2: Where is this gorgeous place?
Tresco (in the Isles of Scilly) just off the tip of Cornwall, England.