Of Local Importance: A Movie Review of “The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain”

Year: 1995 

Filming: Color 

Length: 120 minutes 

Genre: Comedy/Drama/Inspirational/Romance 

Maturity: PG (for mild language and brief sexual innuendos)

Cast: Hugh Grant (Reginald Ansen), Tara Fitzgerald (Betty), Colm Meaney (Morgan the Goat), Kenneth Griffith (Rev. Jones), Ian McNeice (George Garrad), Robert Pugh (Williams the Petroleum), Ian Hart (Johnny Shell-shocked),

Lisa Palfrey (Blod Jones)

Director: Christopher Monger 

Personal Rating: 5 Stars


    A delightful does of laughter and inspiration, The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain is the saga of a small Welsh community and their refusal to be cowed in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Based on a true story and brought to life by a brilliant cast, it is a testimony to the British rebel streak that will leave you in stitches!

   Hugh Grant stars as Reginald Ansen, an English cartographer recently returned home from fighting in WWI. Along with his grumpy senior associate, George Garrad, he is sent on an assignment in a small Welsh village to measure the height of a “mountain” called Ffynnon Garw. Although the villagers are more than a little proud of this local landmark, the measurements clearly show that their “mountain” is actually nothing more than a hill. Ansen tries to break this as gently as possible the assembled townsmen laying bets on the height, but nothing he says makes the verdict sit any better with the locals who interpret it as a direct affront to their good name!

   The elderly Reverend Jones decides it is high time to call an emergency meeting at the chapel, and during the proceedings, the wily innkeeper Morgan the Goat devises a scheme to restore the town’s honor by raising the height of their hill with dirt from the residents’ gardens to make it a mountain is fact and form. But the English cartographers have no intention of lingering in the locality to re-measure Ffynnon Garw and prepare to head venture into North Wales to continue with their mapping. The villagers, however, will have none of it, and proceed to sabotage their every means of escape.

   Reverend Jones and Morgan the Goat, previously arch-enemies for their conflicting sense of morals, join forces in order to lead the villagers in their efforts to build the mountain and befuddle the naive out-of-towners. Williams the Petroleum, the local gas station owner, even pretends to be a trained mechanic in order to get inside the motor of Reginald Ansen’s jeep and pull it apart, while the reverend punctures his tires…just to be sure!

   More raucous antics ensue when the charming and curvaceous Betty is drafted by Morgan to woo Ansen and keep him and his partner in town until the “mountain” is complete. But when torrential storm threatens to destroy the earthen mound on the hill and a mission is launched to cover it over with a tarp, one of the young townsmen called “Johnny Shellshock” is terrified by the storm and experiences a flash-back of the trench warfare he took part in. After collapsing, he is taken back to the inn where Ansen is staying.

   Unexpectedly, the young cartographer reveals his compassion and skill by helping to care for Johnny during his fit. Ansen later reveals that he had suffered from shell-shock himself, explaining his knowledge of how to treat shock victims and his hesitant stammer. Betty is touched by his kindness and gentlemanly defense of her reputation when she is insulted by Johnny’s sister, Blod, and a real romance begins to blossom between the two, making Ansen more sympathetic to the locals’ plight.

    With time running out and George Garrad insisting that they must be on their way, Morgan the Goat is determined to convince Reverend Jones to allow the villagers to continue building on Sunday. The good reverend will have none of his excuses for Sabbath-breaking, until he flips open his Bible to a verse exhorting the reader to “worship The Lord on his Holy Hill”. Taking this a sign from above, he uses his sermon to encourage the people to finish raising the mountain in honor of their loved ones fighting overseas.

   Circumstances seem to be on the side of the people as they carry dirt up the hill with buckets, wheelbarrows, and coal cars, digging up a would-be golf course for more earth, adding it to their mound, and then padding it down with moss. Also, Reginald Ansen joins in the effort to finish before sunset so it will still be light enough for him to measure Ffynnon Garw again. But when Reverend Jones collapses from a heart attack, it seems as if all hope of completing the project in time is lost…until Betty comes up with a solution to keep Ansen on the “mountain” until morning, that is.

   The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain is a small yet intimate production with one of the longest titles in cinematic history! This is an appropriate paradox for a film that applauds the mammoth importance of home-spun values and plain hard work. Acting is direct and believable, scenery is lovely, and the Celtic music score is rousing as we watch the throngs of bucket-toting villagers marching uphill to build their mountain.

   Not only is this film lovably laughable, but it also typifies a fierce pride in locality and community that defines Welshness and Britishness as much as it transcends nationality. The ongoing scheming of the Welsh villagers to keep the Englishmen in town is hilarious, and the “girl-meets-boy” sub-plot is an unexpectedly sweet touch. Hugh Grant is darling as the shy and sensitive young Englishman who finds himself at home in simple country surroundings, and Tara Fitzgerald adds the right spice to the romantic stew. The chemistry is perfect.

   For the most part, this is a pretty clean film done in good taste, aside from a bit of naughty humor involving Morgan the Goat and his less than upstanding activities with Betty and the other girls from town. I don’t think it was necessary to make it as though he has had flings with virtually every female in the village just to get across his own womanizing tendencies. It certainly brings Betty down in my view, who has evidently paid for her “services” to Morgan in the past! Happily, she does eventually get things straightened out and chooses to marry the “gentleman” instead of being used by the “animal” when all is said and done.

     But these situations do serve to heighten the tension between Morgan the Goat and the Reverend Mr. Jones, whose joint leadership of operations brings their contrasting characteristics to the fore. Jones is a wonderfully feisty character who stands out as an eccentric and devoted spiritual shepherd of his little flock and adds a religious undergirding to the plotline. His inspiration to “worship on the hill of the Lord” and turn Ffynnon Garw into a monument for all the members of the community who fought and died far from home and something for the survivors to come back to and be proud of makes one want to let out a cheer for the indomitable spirit of Cymru!

     Morgan the Goat is just as vital to the mission, and matches Jones’ spunk and determination, proving to be an expert schemer in time of crisis. He is the main orchestrator of the mayhem and even gets the reverend directly involved in the capers, including puncturing tires whilst muttering “Lord forgive me; I don’t know what I’m doing!” and singing “Cwm Rhondda” under his breath! Morgan also succeeds in and keeping the people from backing down from their individual parts in the plot by demanding, “You don’t want them to say it all failed because of you?” As Betty accurately accesses, turning a hill into a mountain is just the sort of thing that happens when Morgan gets “a bee in his bonnet”.

     Over the course of the film, the quirky relationship between Morgan and Rev. Jones gradually changes from one of mutual contempt to grudging respect as they unite to uphold the honor of their beloved town. This is brought to fruition in a touching moment when Jones collapses on the hill and calls Morgan over to his side, saying “I know I can trust you”. He then tells him that his final request is to be buried in the mound on the mountain, which must be consecrated by another cleric as soon as possible. After Jones’ passing, Morgan sees that all this is done, even though it prevents the mountain from being built before the sun sets.

   The funeral service is preached from atop the mount as the last light fades over the horizon and torches are lit by the people standing in a circle around it, singing a mournful Welsh hymn. Afterwards, when one of the townsmen reflects on their failure to finish the mountain in time, he mutters dismally, “If it wasn’t for the reverend…” Morgan promptly shoots back, “If it wasn’t for the reverend, none of us would have been here to begin with.” Morgan’s loyalty is rewarded when Betty manages to convince Ansen to spend the night on the mountain to measure the new height at dawn, under the condition that she will stay there as well “to keep him company”. They are next seen standing on top of their mountain, kissing. The next morning, Ansen comes down Ffynnon Garw with the new measurements and the news that he and Betty are now engaged. They are heralded by the town band playing the triumphant “Men of Harlech”.

    Some people would say that the film spent too much time “doing nothing”, but I disagree. The easy pace and warm-hearted simplicity are really what this production is all about. The moral of the story is that what might looks like “nothing” to sophisticated brains who have reasoned themselves out of reason is actually a tremendous “something” to those who have enough common sense to recognize it. True-hearted, straight-speaking folk will always know more about the truly important things in life than the conceited “men of the world”, and this historically-based comedy does a marvelous job demonstrating this reality.

By Rosaria Marie

The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain is available for purchase on DVD at Amazon.com