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Intelligent British Humor Based off Stephen Fry’s Comedic Novel

Director John Jencks smartly adapts Stephen Fry’s comedic novel in this acerbic British comedy with a stellar ensemble cast. Actor Stephen Fry is practically a comedic institution across the Atlantic in the UK. He also happens to be a writer and The Hippopotamus is one of his works from the 1990s. Actor Roger Allam brings the novel to life with an engaging lead performance in this terrific cinematic adaptation.

A famous poet is sent to investigate a mysterious happening at the English estate of his former best friend. That doesn’t sound like the makings of a great comedy but The Hippopotamus is a movie that unfolds in perfect precision. Roger Allam plays Ted Wallace, once a great poet that hasn’t produced meaningful work in nearly three decades. Wallace is the central character, possessing a darkly acidic wit. Having lost the inspiration and will to write poetry, he’s fallen into alcoholism and was recently been fired by his agent.

Ted Wallace’s goddaughter Jane Swann (Emily Berrington), the daughter of Wallace’s former lover, makes him an intriguing and lucrative offer. Visiting his former friend Lord Michael Logan (Matthew Modine) for the first time in years at his palatial estate in the English countryside, Swafford Hall. Logan happens to be Swann’s uncle. Swann wants Wallace to investigate a deep mystery and bring some perspective to her health situation. She claims to have been cured of cancer by something at Swafford Hall and would like to know the truth. You get the feeling Emily is worried about Ted Wallace and is doing this for his own good.

Most surprising is its neat plot construction, rare for a comedy

Wallace isn’t on good terms anymore with Michael Logan but finagles an invitation through his teen son, David Logan (Tommy Knight). David is a smart, sensitive teenager prone to writing poetry and looks up to Ted Wallace. In all other regards he’s a normal teenager, including a constant obsession with sex. Everyone in the Logan family thinks David is special in some way. It soon becomes apparent that much of the mystery at Swafford Hall swirls around David himself to a skeptical Wallace. The remainder of The Hippopotamus is a delightful comic surprise.

The Hippopotamus is a very British movie with its particular comic sensibility. Wallace is a curmudgeon that spares no one from his razor-sharp wit in his internal monologues. The plot parodies British mysteries and their elite in the vein of Hercule Poirot, adeptly setting it in an idyllic English manor apart from the stresses of everyday urban living. Most surprising is its neat plot construction, rare for a comedy. It took years to get The Hippopotamus’ film adaptation off the ground and that patience shines through in the taut script.

After Roger Allam’s essential and needed lead performance, the ensemble film features strong turns from such names as Fiona Shaw and Matthew Modine. Even the young Tommy Knight is pitch-perfect as David. There is a surprising amount of entertaining slapstick and physical comedy intertwined with Wallace’s impeccable dialogue. The character is a man of words and it’s not hard believing he’s a living, breathing poet in The Hippopotamus.

Director John Jencks has crafted an entertaining, intelligent comedy that wryly winks at the audience. British comedy rarely gets better than The Hippopotamus.


Independent distributor Lightyear Entertainment does a really nice job with this acerbic British comedy. The Hippopotamus is nicely filmed in pristine HD video with Arri Alexa cameras. The result is a scenic production set in the English countryside that exudes stark clarity and strong definition. The 1080P video is presented at the film’s intended 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Running 89 minutes on a BD-50, the flawless AVC encode is a fully transparent rendering of the digital intermediate.

The Hippopotamus breathes in picturesque clarity. The lush colors of the English countryside vividly come to life, including excellent contrast and fine black levels. Flesh-tones are neutrally rendered in the pleasing palette and grading outside of a few warmer exteriors. Unfiltered on a macro level, most close-ups exhibit outstanding fine detail in razor-sharp definition. Exterior scenes are especially brilliant.


The dialogue-driven film doesn’t have flashy audio but certainly allows the score and dialogue to work together in standard fashion. Its 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack has clean fidelity for the occasional song and light surround immersion, particularly in exterior settings. Sounds of the English garden and countryside are sprinkled throughout the rear channels when necessary.

A secondary, superfluous 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack at 448 kbps is also included. For some reason, it is the default audio instead of the superior lossless option. Optional English SDH subtitles display in a white font partially outside the scope framing.


The director and most cast members participate in this decent set of supplemental features. Noticeably missing is a commentary of some kind, though the Q&A session with Stephen Fry and the director makes up for it in some regard.

Tanna Trailer (02:18 in HD), Goldstone Trailer (02:04 in HD) – These two trailers for unrelated movies precede the main menu.

The Hippopotamus: From Book To Screen (07:27 in HD) – A typical EPK featurette lightly glossing over the transition seen by director John Jencks. Includes brief clips of interviews with several different cast members.

British Comedy Special (07:06 in HD) – A featurette discussing the film’s distinct British sense of humor with the director and prominent cast members. This feels repetitive to some degree after reusing some of the same soundbites from the first featurette.

Behind The Scenes (09:10 in HD) – Fairly similar to the other featurettes in material, though it does include some actual footage from shooting and unique moments.

The Hippopotamus Trailer (02:26 in HD)

Q & A Session With Stephen Fry (34:17 in HD) – Shot at the film’s premiere at some festival, this lively discussion includes author Stephen Fry, director John Jencks, co-writer Blanche McIntyre and lead actor Roger Allam. This is an interesting discussion as Fry discusses the transition from page to screen. If you only watch one special feature on this disc, it should be this one.

Interview with Roger Allam (05:20 in HD) – The following three interviews aren’t terribly important but provide a little extra insight into making the movie.

Interview with Fiona Shaw (05:12 in HD)

Interview with Matthew Modine (03:55 in HD)

  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras


A surprisingly intelligent, sophisticated British comedy based on a Stephen Fry novel that delights in its eccentric characters.

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