About the Film
Edward (Tom Hiddleston) arrives on a remote island off the English coast, to join his mother (Kate Fahy) and sister (Lydia Leonard) who have organised the family holiday to say goodbye to Edward before he embarks on a year of voluntary service in Africa. Hired cook Rose (Amy Lloyd) and painting teacher Christopher (Christopher Baker) join the family in their rustic cottage and on daytrips around the island. But Edwards father repeatedly fails to join the gathering, instead communicating with his wife and children via a series of increasingly strained phone-calls. His absence serves to bring the familys buried anger and repressed emotions to the surface and underlying tensions are gradually revealed through raw scenes of bitter sibling rivalry and marital disharmony.
Film of the Year (so far)
Archipelago is an austere English masterpiece which makes the work of Mike Leigh, Dennis Potter and Terence Davies look decidedly quaint. It is tragically funny and horribly true. Replete with audacious symbolism, psychological motifs and extraordinarily beautiful shot composition it treats its audience as adults and speaks powerfully to the dread at the heart of every family. It is Waiting For Godot cleverly disguised as Faulty Towers.
Worst film of the year
Archipelago is without doubt the worst film I have seen this year. It lacks story, plot, characters of any interest, or indeed any redeeming features other than good acting (I give the cast credit for doing their best with almost no material to work with). It is self-indulgent film-making at its most dire, presenting the absence of anything of substance as art. If you enjoy this film then please do the rest of society a favour and remove yourself to an isolated cave somewhere that your taste will not offend anyone.
Restrained, repressed English landscape and emotionality
This is so unlike most films on release today that it takes some adjustment to settle down and really watch/hear/feel what is going on here. The acting is subtle and natural - it seems that most of the time the actors are improvising. Yet there is something oddly mesmerising about the performances and the characters stay with you so much longer than those in an ordinary, 'hollywood'-style film.
The colour in the film is bleached and pale - and this is obviously a metaphor for the restrained, repressed emotionality of the characters who live their lives hardly speaking to each other and when they do, mostly in cliches. The art teacher, for example, spouts pretentious intellectualisms about the nature of art, light and the scenery they inhabit. The family talk to each other almost as though they are strangers. The only person to whom real emotion is directed is the one who is absent - the father. Also, emotion breaks through at the ghastly outing to a restaurant - but noone is able to cope with it, and instead silence reigns. These people are hungry for contact with each other (the tension between the son and the 'maid' is palpable - but comes to nothing); between the mother and the art teachers (which also comes to nothing), and the daughter/sister and her jealous rivalry of her brother.
Outside, nature seems to threaten to break through the restraint of the family - birdsong, the sound of the sea and wind...but eventually is tamed and made 'English' through its capture in art.
As a study of an English family life, it is excellent. As I say, it does take some time to really just sit quietly and watch this film, but it is rewarding on so many levels, and probably worth seeing at least once more. Don't expect 'action' or boat chases around the Scilly Isles: instead, the director has provided a restrained, tense, sad look at lives which are superficially successful, but in reality emotionally deprived.