Based on a Stephen Fry novel of the same name, The Hippopotamus would have possessed bucketfuls more charm if it had actually starred a morose, bloated water beast. Instead, we get morose, bloated literary beast Tim Wallace, who is about as endearing as a pissed old man shooting pervy missives from a park bench.
The unfortunate role of sozzled, sexist poet falls to Roger Allam (Peter Mannion in The Thick of It), whose character once wrote blistering poetry and was probably mates with Martin Amis, before falling from grace.
After scraping a living as a theatre critic – “turning whisky into journalism” – he finds himself unemployed following an incident in which he drunkenly interrupts a performance of Titus Andronicus to tell the cast just how many shades of urine-soaked shit they are. As I said, charming.
Wallace’s impossibly attractive, New Age goddaughter catches up with him in a bar soon afterwards and explains that she had her leukaemia “cured” at Swafford Hall, an aristocratic country estate. She’s willing to pay him an eye-watering sum to pack up his soul full of cynicism and pay a visit, on the pretence of seeing his godson, and in doing so divine whether miracles do, in fact, happen.
It’s all a bit wannabe-Wilde and wobbly-Wodehouse, but minus the wit, leaving only pretentious, upper-class drivel.
The characterisation of the other guests reaches for eccentricity, yet remains firmly in the land of mildly offensive stereotypes. A sexy French woman and her teenage daughter (described as “eminently fuckable” and “woundingly plain”, by way of introduction) join the achingly polite aristocrats who own the place, along with their precocious son and a deeply unfunny playwright who’s one wig short of being a pantomime dame.
Much like its protagonist, the plot meanders drunkenly about, unsure whether it’s a mystery or a social satire, before landing somewhere far away from either, in a land where teenage girls can be “cured” of their ugliness and bestiality is a bemusing peculiarity.
If you like posh people saying rude words and falling off of boats, this is one for you. For everyone else, it’s beastly.