30 July 2004 | bob the moo
A sensitive and well-judged period drama from Palin
Rev Francis Ashby is a bookish and retiring don at Oxford who reluctantly gives in to his colleagues insistences that he go for a holiday. Enjoying the peace and quiet in the Alps he is initially disturbed by the arrival of a group including an American woman (Caroline) and her teenager ward (Elinor). However, acting as their guide when the rest of the group returns to the lodgings, Ashby starts to fall for the darling Elinor but, after slight bonding, he is called back immediately due to the failing health of the college president. When his American friends come to Oxford to visit, their arrival throws the college into a tizzy and he finds himself in competition with others for not only the role of president but also for the hearts of his friends.
Watching this film for the third time since its release in the early nineties I decided to review it and, looking at the title page was astonished (yes, really) to see that only 106 people have voted on it. I know this is not a total representation of how many people have actually seen it but I was surprised how such a well-known film appears to be underseen (although it may say more about the demographics of those that use this site most). This is not to imply that it is an excellent film but it is a well paced film that is enjoyable on its own terms. For those expecting great sentiment you will be let down, likewise those expecting a Merchant Ivory film, or a very comic film but those open to a nicely sensitive little tale that is slightly comic but more enjoyable for being restraining and being very true to the Englishness of its subjects and the polite behaviour of the period.
Based on his own grandfather's diaries, Palin has done a good job as both writer and director to capture the period and deal with the subject in a way that is unshowy but not stale, sensitive and patient but never dull and comic without ever being so crude as to actually make you laugh out loud. It isn't fantastic of course but it is nicely lowkey and it is enjoyable for what it is. As actor Palin continues this good work and he delivers a very restrained and shy performance even more amazing when you think this is a Python! Booth and Alvarado are both very attractive and restrained at the same time and effective if not memorable. Molina, currently playing a superhero baddie, plays a 'baddie' of another sort here and he pitches his character well to be dastardly while still keeping within the period. Support from Jones, Firth, Eddison and others is good and they all keep to the period and the material yet.
Overall this is not an amazing film or even a really good one, but what it is is a well written period drama that is delivered well enough to prevent it being dull and it comes over as a nice little film that is pleasing to watch even if it never sets the screen on fire. An undervalued little drama that is a well handled, very personal film from Palin who does very well in all three of his roles.