archipelago-nov-24thJoanna Hogg explores the social mores and tensions of a middle class family on holiday. Beautifully set in the Isles of Scilly, the isolation of the location is used to full dramatic effect. The mother, Patricia (Kate Fahy), despite the wilful absence of her husband from the family’s annual holiday, is determined to carry on as normal – a ritual which should have ended long ago, both son and daughter now being adults. A masterly and sophisticated piece of film making, Hogg’s use of interiors and settings are intrinsic to the narrative of the piece.
“As much a downbeat comedy of bourgeois mores, Archipelago is a sort of claustrophobic horror story, set in a place of no easy escape.” – Jonathan Romney, Sight & Sound. (Cert 15)
Dir: Joanna Hogg 110 mins UK 2010

Programme Notes

UK 2010 110 minutes Cert. 15

The title of the film, a geographical term for a group of islands, stands for the theme (isolated individuals condemned to be close together) as well as the setting. A middle-class family find themselves out of their comfort zone (although not their material comfort zone: they are in a beautiful cottage on the Scilly Isles) as they take a holiday together before the son goes off to do good works in Africa. The family unit is destabilised by the absence of the father, represented only off-screen through frazzled phone calls with the mother, and the tension between the spoken and unspoken lingers in the air as Hogg’s camera settles on quotidian details. The close proximity of the class Other (the young woman employed to cook for these helpless bourgeois) and the imminent encounter, for the son, with the post-colonial Other, produce an exquisite comedy of social embarrassment. The dialogue and the silences are precision-engineered: well-intentioned liberalism is as thoroughly skewered as mean-spiritedness and fits of pique.

Is there a redemption? Well, an older man (played by a real-life artist), there as plot device of art teacher to the mother, does not step into the breach as reassuring substitute paternal figure – but exemplifies instead the engagement with the world offered by art, as does the film as a whole, every shot a triumph of painterly (but profoundly cinematic) vision.

Edward – Tom Hiddleston
Patricia – Kate Fahy
Rose – Amy Lloyd
Cynthia – Lydia Leonard
Christopher (the artist) – Christopher Baker
Chef – Alan Hewitt
Waitresses – Leigh Baker, Allanah Sheppard
Lobster fisherman – Mike Pender
Head gardener – Andrew Lawson

Director – Joanna Hogg
Screenplay – Joanna Hogg
Cinematography – Ed Rutherford
Producer – Gayle Griffiths

“[A] deeply intelligent new film from British director Joanna Hogg. There is something exacting and audacious in it, something superbly controlled in its composition and technique. The clarity of her film-making diction is a marvel – even, or perhaps especially, when the nature of the story itself remains murkily unrevealed.” Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

“Firstly, an apology of sorts – Archipelago, the critics loved it, but did we……….? The words paint, watch, dry, come to mind. What was the point… please let us know!” (e-mail message sent out by Philippa and Jane, owners of the Ultimate Picture Palace on the Cowley Road, after showing the film.)


“What a wonderful portrayal of a tortured British family holiday. I loved it!”

“Fascinating – wonderful characterisation and atmosphere, though the pace and silences took some getting used to …”

“In terms of action, you’d have to say it wasn’t Ben Hur. So how did it manage to be so gripping without a single chariot race?”

“Some great moments!”

“Super! Shades of Fawlty Towers in part, don’t you think?”

“Superb colour sense”

“I had thought that this film might remind me of our honeymoon in the Scilly Isles. I’m rather relieved to say that it did not – apart from the scenery. Superbly made, however.”

“I think it worked. The dying lobsters and [dead] pheasants provided a menacing backdrop to the Hampstead neuroses. I was glad when the cook packed up her knives!”

“More a series of stills – still lifes, even – punctuated with inarticulate and often pretentious dialogue, than a film. Still, the restaurant scene was great!”

“I found it intensely irritating at first but was not sure if that was at a really bad film or at an annoying family in a well observed film. At times, the characters seemed exaggerated but at others, they reminded me strongly of real people – especially the mother. All a bit too slow for me. So why did the cook [Rose] leave? Why did we not see the note? I think I agree with the UPP Email [Ultimate Picture Palace email, see the programme note for this screening].”

Archipelago wasn’t a good title for this – Five Go on Holiday and Act Like Pompous Twits would have been more like it! This was an ‘art-house’ film you will love to hate with its unapologetically static photography and unlikeable characters. It should have had some more comic scenes to make it more tolerable.”

“Like a lighthouse in the desert – brilliant but pointless!”

“Lacking plot, sub-plot, action and even the odd lyrical cadence”

“Were the washed-out colours meant to emphasise how insipid the English are? At least in a French film like this [one] there would be some sex! No one punched anyone or even threw anything.”

“Dreary and pseudy. Clever but I would not recommend it.”

“What a crew! Will they go back there next year?”

“Families, eh – who’d have ‘em? Stick to dogs [pets], I say!”

“The thing about slow films is [that] you have to like the characters! Poor Rose …”

“They must have had time on their hands.”

“What a long fortnight – a week would have been long enough!”

“I can remember having a much better holiday in the Scilly Isles. Moral of this tale – stop having family holidays!”

“A tedious study of indecision – or a Scilly Isles travelogue? And has Tony Blair found a new career?”

“A brilliant travelogue. The complete absence of music made the song over the end credits come as a shock and the cuts from violent winds to peace was very noticeable.”

“Too much atmosphere & soft focus. What that family needed was not an art teacher but a psychiatrist!”

“Was there actually a script? What happened to Rose – did she bike back to Northampton? At least I now know how to pluck a lobster and boil a pheasant!”

“Not the worst film I’ve ever seen but pretty close to it. [Scilly Isles 7, bird song 6, sea 5, photography 4, drama 3, script 2, romance1]. The point was lost on me, unless it was ‘Don’t go to Africa, don’t go – you’d be better off with the cook’! Like watching a particularly bad episode of Big Brother!”

“The next time I suffer from insomnia, I shall replay this film in my mind – and be asleep in one minute or less!”

“ZZZZZZZZZ …. Dear, oh dear, what a waste of … everything. At least the scenery was nice.”

“Wow! Such fun and what a vivid slideshow [of a] film. It got my first ever E!”

“I can see why the husband stayed away – they must be [really] looking forward to Christmas together!”


A:7, B:11, C:14, D:10, E:1 to give 58%