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Film / The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain

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The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain is a 1995 British historical comedy/drama directed by Christopher Monger, starring Hugh Grant, Tara Fitzgerald, and Colm Meaney.

In 1917, two English cartographers come to a small Welsh village to measure the local mountain, Ffynnon Garw, for the official British maps. The villagers are very proud of Ffynnon Garw ("the first mountain in Wales") and are rather upset to learn that that it's just under the 1000 feet required to be considered a mountain, and thus will not appear on the map.

Quickly, the villagers hatch a plan to add a mound to the top to bring it up to the requirement, while conspiring to keep the cartographers in town long enough to measure it again.

This film provides examples of:

  • All Take and No Give: Morgan is much better at telling people what they have to do than actually doing those things. Often accompanied by an exasperated cry of "I can't do it all myself!"
  • Arc Words: "Do you want me to have to say it all failed because of you?"
  • Bad Liar: Williams the Petroleum (the local garage owner). Most of the townspeople aren't great deceivers either, with plenty of Hesitation Equals Dishonesty, but Williams has to do the bulk the misleading, at Morgan's insistence. Doesn't help that he seems an honest man by nature, given to conscience pangs.
  • Based on a Great Big Lie: The film heavily implies that it's based on a true story. In fact, it is based on a local legend, but one that has no basis in fact.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Williams the Petroleum tells Anson and Garrod that their car's "be'chi'ngalw" is broken, claiming not to know the English word. Be'chi'ngalw is the Welsh equivalent of "thingimajig."
  • "Blackmail" Is Such an Ugly Word: The aforementioned Arc Words are Morgan's response to anyone who balks at one of his ideas. It starts from the relatively benign (obtaining two pounds of sugar under rationing to sabotage the Englishmen's car) but gets downright dark later when he sends Williams the Petroleum and Johnny Shellshocked up the mountain in a thunderstorm to cover the mound with a tarp. Betty finally repeats the line to Anson so that he'll stay on the mountain (with her) and measure it at sunrise.
  • Blatant Lies:
    • It becomes increasingly obvious to Anson and Garrad that the town is conspiring to keep them there, but there's little they can do about it.
      Anson: We weren't able to get a train, it appears the lines are flooded. Funny, though, the coal trains seem to be running just fine.
      Morgan: (beat) Different lines.
      Anson: Ah, I knew there was a simple explanation. (To Garrad) You see, it's different lines!
    • There is also their claim that the town flagpole (which they're using as a measuring post for the mound) was taken away for "dry rot." In Wales.
  • Book Ends: Early on when the cartographers declare Fynnon Garw a hill, the pastor says a despondent "a hill?" and sighs. On the Distant Finale, when Fynnon Garw is declared a hill again, the pastor's voice says the same line from the grave.
  • Brick Joke: Morgan arranges to have the cartographers' car sabotaged by pouring two pounds of sugar into the gas tank, a near-impossible amount under wartime rationing. Later, when Anson and Garrod go into the general store for a telegram, the clerk is arguing with a woman who is upset that there's no sugar to buy.
  • The Caretaker: Blod is in this position for her brother, Johnny Shellshocked. She is very protective of him when people talk to him, reassures him after he speaks up at the town meeting, and her conversation with Anson makes plain it isn't the first time she's had to help Johnny through a bad flashback.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Thomas Twp One and Two.
  • The Cuckoolander Was Right: The Thomas Twps are dead right about the rain, which washes away half the mound during the night. Their idea to protect the mound—by appropriating the sod from the school's rugby field—worked out pretty well.
  • Close-Knit Community: When the status of their mountain is threatened, almost everyone in town rallies to fix it. Even the preacher and the barkeeper are willing to work together.
  • Chekhov's Lecture: The proposal about making Flynnon Garw taller mentions that some hills have had structures built on the top added to its total measurement—including graves. Guess where the reverend ended up being buried?
  • Deadpan Snarker: Morgan the Goat, especially when dealing with Reverend Jones.
    Reverend Jones: Have you no shame sir?
    Morgan: No. [pats his pockets] I can't think where I've left it.
  • Distant Finale: The end shows the descendants of the villagers in modern times. They learn that the mound has settled back under 1000 feet, and the final scene shows them hauling dirt by hand to build it back up.note 
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Morgan brings Betty to town in hopes of "distracting" Garrad \ Anson. It ends up working, but not in the way he'd planned.
  • During the War: One reason that Ffynnon Garw's status is so important to the villagers is because World War I has devastated the town's population.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Morgan is a shifty, self-serving operator who quickly finds ways to make money out of the situation, not to mention the promiscuity that gave him his title of "the Goat". However, his sense of Welsh pride is as sincere as anyone's; he refuses to take any bets less than 1,000 feet and he proposes the idea of raising the mountain's height.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The movie's title is a pretty thorough summary of its plot.
  • The Fantastic Trope of Wonderous Titles: One of the longest and most elaborate titles of any mainstream movie, fittingly for such a quirky historical tale.
  • Get Out!: Blod, Johnny Shellshocked's sister, tells her sometimes-boyfriend Morgan to get off her doorstep after he brings Johnny home from a bad flashback. Morgan had pushed him and Williams to put a tarp over the mound during a thunderstorm.
  • Heroic RRoD: The pastor had a weak heart. His continuous walking up and down Flynnon Garw to help with the efforts to make it taller drove him into a heart attack.
  • I Choose to Stay: At the end, Anson and Betty announce their engagement, with the implication that he returned to the village and married her.
  • Implausible Deniability: Williams apologizes to Anson about the tarpaulin "blowing away" from the car during the rainstorm. Anson cheerfully asks him if it's the tarpaulin on the mound that he's kneeling on at the moment.
  • Ironic Echo: The Englishmen are greeted in the apparently-deserted village with Morgan's "They're all in chapel on Sunday. What's yours?" At the end of the film, Morgan enters the pub the next Sunday morning to find Garrad behind his bar—who greets him with the same line.
  • Is That the Best You Can Do?: When Anson promises to try to come back for another measurement.
    Betty: "I'll try"? Is that the best you can do?
  • It's Quiet… Too Quiet: Garrad complains about how quiet the village is, though Anson finds it refreshing. By that time, most of the population is busily adding to the mountain.
  • Large Ham: Despite his advanced years, Reverend Jones is a larger-than-life presence on the pulpit and off. He practically devours Morgan's drinks stall when scolding him for using the mountain-raising as a business opportunity.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: After sending Williams the Petroleum and Johnny Shellshocked up the mountain in the thunderstorm, resulting in Johnny having a PTSD episode and both he and Williams nearly being struck by lightning, Blod ejects Morgan from her house. He can't get back into his pub because Betty's already locked up, and he can't make himself heard over the rain, so he has to spend the night in his goatshed.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: The narrator mentions that somehow, there were a lot of red-haired babies in 1917 despite most of the young men being away at war, but that nobody really minded because it was such a terrible year for the town. (Except the Reverend Jones, who preached against Morgan once he was done preaching against the war.) This does raise the question of how - and whether - from the time the children born in 1917 reached their teens, they were kept away from dating and marrying their biological half-siblings.
  • Maybe Ever After: After Morgan unbends enough to go to church to save the mountain, Blod greets him from her doorway. It isn't certain whether she's actually forgiven him for Johnny's flashback, but she isn't giving him the silent treatment either.
  • No Antagonist: The primary conflict is a race against time before the cartographers go home. No one's antagonistic, and the worst characters are merely indifferent.
  • Not So Above It All: He may not be willing to bet like everybody else in town is doing, but the reverend also hoped that Ffynon Garw would be declared a mountain from the get-go. He whispers a despondent "a hill?" when he hears this and sighs before walking back to the church.
  • The Noun Who Verbed: The title. The Title Drop happens at the very end, when Anson makes the measurements at first light in the morning once the extra dirt is added.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business:
    • Anson is timid, easygoing, and unfailingly polite, but when Johnny Shellshocked is brought in catatonic, he quickly takes charge and starts snapping orders at Garrad.
      "Bugger Sevastapol, George, give me your jacket!"
    • When Morgan tries to get Reverend Jones to allow work on Sunday, the Reverend snaps that he might try going to church. So he does. The sight of Morgan the Goat in Sunday best trying to find a pew is treated with astonishment by all.
  • Oh, Crap!: Reverend Jones when the first raindrop hits the church steps... and Morgan when Garrad casually mentions how tropical monsoons frequently caused mudslides.
  • Patriotic Fervor: Shown in a sympathetic light as being home of "the first mountain in Wales" is a point of pride for the town. Wales = mountains, mountains = Wales; otherwise they might as well redraw the border to put them in England. When Ffynnon Garw is reclassified as a hill without warning or ceremony, it takes away one of the few things they had left after three grueling years of loss to the trenches and the mines.
  • Planet of Steves: Discussed. There are only a few last names in the village, so everyone is referred to as both name and occupation (Williams the Petroleum, Jones the Baker, etc). This is a Running Joke about Wales in general.note 
  • The Quiet One: Johnny Shellshocked has hardly spoken since returning from the trenches. Everyone at the village meeting is astonished when he speaks a few sentences to say that raising the height is possible.
  • Really Gets Around: Morgan the Goat.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: With the notable exception of the schoolmaster, everyone in town participates in the plot, including the pastor and and the town constable. They even help sabotage the cartographers' car to keep them in town.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Garrad was retired from the foreign cartography service and sent to update Welsh maps because his attitude had driven his subordinates to "despair and drink." He makes no secret of how little he likes Wales and the Welsh.
  • Running Gag: The Englishmen continually flubbing the pronunciation of Ffynon Garw. At one point, Anson nervously refers to it as "finon groo."
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: When the only way to finish the mountain is to work on the Sabbath, the pastor ends up deciding that it's more important to finish what they started, and gives the town his blessing to keep working. Notably, the pastor is praying to God to give him a sign whether he should break the rule about working on the Sabbath or not. Then his eyes fall on Psalm 99:9.... "Exalt the Lord our God, and worship at His holy hill; for the Lord our God is holy." He takes that to mean that God has given him permission to break the rules, and he gives his sermon with a passion.
  • Scenery Porn: Making a movie about a Welsh mountain is a really good excuse to show off how beautiful the geography of Wales is.
  • Serious Business: Cartography is a matter of extremely serious import to everyone in the town. Justified because they are otherwise just a little town in the middle of nowhere that saw many of their young ones die in World War One — they need something to be proud of, and direly.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran:
    • Johnny Shellshocked. His commitment to building the mountain gives him enough purpose to start recovering from his trauma.
    • Also Anson, as it turns out. Though he's largely recovered, this is the reason he's making maps in Britain instead of at war.
  • Sitcom Arch-Nemesis: Reverend Jones and Morgan the Goat. The reverend routinely preaches against Morgan (without ever mentioning his name) on the basis of immorality because Morgan sells alcohol and sleeps with any woman who is willing, regardless of whether or not she's married. Morgan isn't bothered by the antagonism and simply doesn't go to church until late in the film.
  • Stating the Simple Solution:
    • When informed that official heights often include manmade structures, Morgan proposes that they just increase the height of Ffynon Garw to 1000 feet themselves.
    • At the end of the week, the villagers have added their 20 feet to the mountain, but the sun has gone down and they have no way to keep the cartographers off the first train in the morning—leaving them unable to do the re-measurement. Betty points out that late as it is, Anson can just stay on the mountain until the sunrise and measure it then. (With her to keep him company, of course.)
  • Straw Vulcan: Davies the School. He first earns his fellow citizens' ire when he places his bet for Ffynon Garw being under 1000 feet. He's also unhappy about his fields being ripped up for the sod and finally gives up on attempting to hold class when only one child shows up—every other parent has put their kids to work on the bucket chain.
  • Tranquil Fury: Garrad, as the villagers' machinations to keep him and Anson in town become more flagrant. He simply snaps "Anson!" to delegate the conversation to him, having been rendered unable to speak by sheer frustration.
  • Trauma Button: The thunder and lightning at night make the mound and its earthworks look like and sound like the trenches being attacked like German artillery, causing Johnny Shellshock to collapse screaming and fall into a catatonic state.
  • The Unpronounceable: Generally any time Anson or Garrad attempt to pronounce a Welsh word, much to the amusement of anyone they're speaking to.
  • Whole Episode Flashback: The film is presented as an old man explaining to his grandson how the titular Englishman got his name.
  • Zany Scheme: Despite the apparent simplicity of the plan (just add 20 feet of earth to the summit of Ffynon Garw), the villagers have go through all sorts of convoluted deceptions, sabotage, and plotting to keep Garrad and Anson from leaving, while also trying to be sneaky about it.