- Allan Hunter
- 22 May 2017
Roger Allam savours a juicy starring role in an otherwise half-hearted farce
The one saving grace of The Hippopotamus is that it provides a rare starring role for Roger Allam. Failed poet and embittered critic Ted Wallace is a juicy peach of a part and Allam plays him with all the giddy delight of MasterChef's Gregg Wallace discovering a restaurant that only serves chocolate-smothered desserts. Allam's mellifluous plum brandy voice relishes the withering insults and erudite ruminations that are Ted's stock in trade and he almost manages to make the excessive voice-over narration tolerable. Almost.
The screen version of Stephen Fry's 1994 novel from director John Jencks heavily relies on Allam's blazing talent to pass muster. The half-hearted mixture of Poirot-like sleuthing, PG Wodehouse-style country house hijinks and slapstick farce veers between mildly amusing and downright tedious and is not helped by some odd casting.
Allam's Ted has not written a poem in 30 years but scratches a living as a whisky-swilling theatre critic whose judgements are etched in bile. His boorish outbursts from the audience during a performance of Titus Andronicus prove to be the final straw and he is sacked. At this low ebb, he receives an offer he cannot refuse to attend Swafford Hall, the country estate of his dear old chum Michael Logan (a strangely cast Matthew Modine). Ted is asked to investigate claims of miracle cures linked to the estate, which is the catalyst for a chaotic farce that requires a revolving door of fresh characters (flamboyant theatre director, French socialite etc) and a final showdown between Ted's grumpy old cynic and his teenage godson's fanciful romanticism.
Lacking the zeal and comic energy that the material requires, The Hippopotamus feels like a soufflé that has failed to rise, leaving a film that can only be recommended to diehard Allam devotees.
General release from Sun 28 May.