Obsession and Hubris

The most interesting aspect of The Englishman... is the very notion that motivates the movie. A pair of English cartographers come to a Welsh town to measure a local... I'll call it a geographic feature. The locals consider it a mountain. The measurements - and whatever arbitrary English standards they had in 1910 - say it's a hill. So the locals, with their pride all afronted, set out to build up the extra little bit of height to qualify as a "proper" mountain.

This really happened. Probably not exactly like we see in the film, but the basics are assuredly the same. It actually makes a lot of sense. People like to feel they have a certain amount of control over their environment - said control having had a lot to do with the success of the species over the years. And add on the uncanny ability to obsess over meaningless, arbitrary details. If one foot can mark the distinction between a hill and a mountain, then it's in fact nothing to do with the natural order of things and more to do with convenience.

So of course the residents of the sleepy Welsh town band together and pursue the meaningless physical task of building a mountain out of a bigger than average molehill. I guess that's the sort of thing people did before videogames. And no, it's completely meaningless - the meaning is entirely in their minds.

As a a lightly comic little character drama, it works. This minor distinction is important to them, and thus it is important to us. It seems appropriate that the characters are not blown out of proportion archetypes, or burdened by a myriad of internal dramas. We see the story of a hill maturing into a mountain, a quaint and dubiously inspiring tale, and that's it.

But as far as the name of the film goes (a "stunt title" as I've heard it called), on one level it is actually trying to be clever. Yet I can't help feeling a certain overreaching element to it, as the film, like the characters in it, tries to claim an importance more on a technicality than actual merit.

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