What I love about Joanna Hogg movies is that she makes these like, slow posh English mumblecore things with just enough of a weirdly brutal edge where I feel like at any moment it’s possible one of the characters might fully die in an accident. There were so many still wide shots of people climbing through landscapes in this, and they all had me screaming. Every meal conversation: screaming. By the time the characters in a Joanna Hogg piece finally scream themselves, it’s like smashing plates, violent and destructively satisfying. They are these very bloodless movies that make me feel very bloodthirsty and I’m into it!
Archipelago takes place on an actual archipelago, a cluster of really unplaceable islands off the tip of Cornwall called the Isles of Scilly. One moment the environment looks almost like Scotland, all windswept heather and rock, and the next moment there are tropical plants with birds twittering in them. Everyone is always wearing coats against the cold but the water is turquoise blue in places. I had no idea a place like this even existed. It feels like an English colony still within England. Incredible. And just a perfect setting for this, a story (“story”) of an upperclass young man spending an uncomfortable holiday with his mother and sister at their vacation home before leaving for an unnamed country in Africa to do AIDS awareness work for eleven months, and oh boy they hate this almost as much as him trying to befriend the cook they’ve hired for their stay! Basically everything he does to try to allay his privilege just makes everyone involved feel more uncomfortable about the class divide, and I was just watching all this drinking my tea, rapt, going out of my mind at scenes where Tom Hiddleston puts on his boots in a hallway for like five minutes while continuously apologizing to people trying to get around his long legs.
Honestly this movie would be valid just for acknowledging that Tom Hiddleston is too tall. Which it does, several times, passively yet pointedly, my favorite by far being its deployment in the delicious metaphor that is Edmund leaving the big bedrooms for the others and volunteering to take the little servants’ quarters upstairs alongside the cook, even though he physically does not fit in the space.
I probably spent an outsized amount of time in this movie just thinking about Tom Hiddleston. I mean he does play the main character, by a slim margin but a margin, but at this point ten years later, he’s a Person, and he wasn’t then, and I kept thinking about it. In 2009 he was still wearing his hair longish, in his natural blonde curls that preposterously don’t suit him at all. His costuming is in rich person clothes, but also ones that don’t particularly suit him, lots of these ill-fitting baggy trousers. He of course still has that striking, angular face that looks like it should be cut into a coin, but you’d have to be paying attention to much notice it, as the camera cares so little for close-ups of any of the characters, leaving them always held at a middle distance (#symbolical). It was just interesting to me to see how this movie uses him totally differently than films do now. And before he’d be washed in the veneer of fame that would make him “Tom Hiddleston”, pulled out of the bespoke suits both dress and supervillain, he’s just this tall British actor who’s actually pretty dang good at what he does.
This Joanna Hogg role isn’t gonna be my favorite performance of his (pretty sure that will always be the RAF pilot with narcissistic personality disorder—if you want to talk about things eminently suited for him), and Archipelago is not going to be my favorite of her movies either (there were other and stronger points to end it on—I love a good unresolved ending but this wasn’t it), yet I sure had a great time on this cold island.