British Comedy Guide

The Hippopotamus. Ted Wallace (Roger Allam).

The Hippopotamus

2017 British comedy film about a disgraced poet. Stars Roger Allam, Emily Berrington, Matthew Modine, Fiona Shaw, Tommy Knight and others.

The Hippopotamus. Image shows from L to R: John Jencks, Ted Wallace (Roger Allam).

Roger Allam and John Jencks interview

Two of the key people behind new British comedy movie The Hippopotamus - star Roger Allam and director John Jencks - kindly agreed to answer some questions from BCG readers. Here's the results...

What is the film about?

John: The Hippopotamus concerns the investigation of miracles at a large country house by a rather unlikely detective.

Ted Wallace, played by Roger, is a disgruntled, misanthropic poet who is fired from his last source of income as a theatre critic. However, as luck would have it, his god-daughter has a need of him and so he heads off to Swafford Hall, the lair of his old, but long-unseen, friend Lord Logan.

It's based on a book by Stephen Fry. Did you read the novel before embarking on the film scripts?

John: I read the novel in 2003 when I was staying at a friend's house in the States. I've read it a couple of times since then, but not in the last five years. The novel is very true to the heart of the book, but there was a large amount of changes that were needed to make a functional script.

It doesn't look like the film is about a real hippopotamus?

John: A few years ago, I spent a couple of months searching for the infamous Leopard scenes that didn't make it into the final cut of Visconti's Il Gattopardo but, like so many others, failed to find them. As that film is still considered a classic, despite its relative feline insufficiency, I thought we'd be ok with a relatively pachyderm free Hippopotamus.

The Hippopotamus.

How long did it take you to film it?

John: The vital stats, so to speak, are: 6 years to write the script and finance it, 23 days to shoot it, 9 months to edit. It's a completely extraordinary feeling to be at the end of it.

We shot most of the film at West Wycombe Park, a National Trust house on the outskirts of London.

How involved was Stephen Fry in the project?

John: I think once Stephen had poured all his heart and energy into writing the book, he was rather keen on us taking ownership of the film and making it our own thing. Which is an incredibly generous thing of him to do. He's now seen the film, and told me he thought it was good... which is a great relief.

What was it like working with what appears to be a great cast, with strong comedy credentials?

John: Both very confidence inspiring and, for the first week, a little nerve wracking. But after a little while I got over myself and really enjoyed it. They were all fantastic.

The Hippopotamus. Image shows from L to R: Oliver Mills (Tim McInnerny), Ted Wallace (Roger Allam).

What do you consider more challenging - dramatic acting or comic acting?

Roger: They're both equally challenging.

What are your views on poetry? [From a reader who would appear not to be a fan of it]

Roger: Longer than time and space allows, but when good it distils and concentrates language and meaning.

John: I generally find it fucking terrifying.

Aside from The Hippopotamus obviously, what have your career highlights been?

John: There's a short out there on YouTube called Go Away Please that I'm quite proud of.

Roger: Falstaff went quite well.

With politics all over the place, would you be up for making more episodes of The Thick Of It, Roger?

I'd always be up for more episodes of The Thick Of It.

Sarah & Duck!

Roger: Yes, isn't it lovely!

Cabin Pressure. Image shows from L to R: Arthur (John Finnemore), Douglas (Roger Allam), Carolyn (Stephanie Cole), Martin (Benedict Cumberbatch). Copyright: Pozzitive Productions.

What's your fondest memory from Cabin Pressure?

Roger: Fondest memory? Just doing the wonderful scripts.

Cabin Pressure looked so much fun to record. Was it always a joy, or sometimes hard work? Did you ever consider becoming a pilot?

It was never very hard work for me, always a joy; but it was always very hard work for [writer] John Finnemore.

No, I've never considered becoming a pilot.

Do you think Cabin Pressure might ever come back for another special one day?

I don't know how it would come back, but I'd definitely be up for it.

What are you working on next?

Roger: [ITV drama] Endeavour.

John: I'm planning to direct a rather revolting horror film.


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Published: Saturday 20th May 2017