Hotel Splendide

Hotel Splendide


Reviewed by: Nicola Osborne

"British" and "film" are not always the greatest combination of words on the planet. In fact lately the rash of films trying to emulate the Englishness of Four Weddings And A Funeral, the gruesomeness of Shallow Grave or the plucky northerner spirit of the hugely successful The Full Monty (see There's Only One Jimmy Grimble or Billy Elliot for more examples) seem to have seriously put back the British film industry.

In this state of mind I toddled along to Hotel Splendide, concerned it would fall somewhere between Fawlty Towers and Guesthouse Paradiso or, God forbid, worse. So it's with some relief that I can report that Splendide is in fact a great deal better than expected if rather less, er, splendid than it could be...

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The Hotel itself is a big rotting pile offshore that alleges to be a merry little hotel though one suspects the guests are actually serving some sort of obscure community service for crimes unknown since the place is utterly inhospitable. The place hasn't been the same since the former landlady's death and is in a sort of permanent 1950s stasis sustained by her deranged son Dezmond. The rest of her family - her toad-like widower, Cora her troubled daughter, and Ronald, another son and the chef have also stayed on at the hotel, each for their own dark reasons. We are invited into this fairly horrid environment by youngster Stanley Smith, a cheery permanent resident, before we see the new guest arrive and follow her effect on the place.

From the opening shots of the slimy, dirty hotel interior, to the nervous ticks (both behavioral and literal) of Stephen Tomkinson's Dezmond, to the enemas and dubious hydra treatments administered by a stern Cora (Katrin Cartlidge) we know we are in for a series of dodgy and mostly unfunny lavatorial jokes.

In fact, it makes The Road to Wellville look positively subtle. While not funny, the film is entertaining as blackly comic drama, with a few scenes standing out, notably those viewed via keyhole in true "what the butler saw" style by various guests. The outsider provided by Toni Collette's Kath softens the severity of both the hotel and Ronald rather too predictably in her quest to free the whole family, particularly old flame Ronald. However, the evil passion she stirs in the elaborate boiler and plumbing systems (don't ask!) raises the tension and psychosis up sufficiently to shake the film into full conflict.

The performances are good: Collette works fine with what is always going to be a limited character compared to the gross caricatures here, Daniel Craig is great as the enigmatic chef torn between his devotion to his family (and his eel and seaweed diet) and the uninvited spice of Kath - that both of them are chefs allows for great kitchen sparring scenes and some colorful culinary conjury providing a welcome break in the drudgery.

Tomkinson is marvelously hammy as the man with cinema's biggest Oedipus complex since Norman Bates, whilst Cartlidge is mesmerically haunting as Cora, though the last half hour of the film lets her down somewhat. Meanwhile Stanley is played by Hugh O'Connor with such innocence and strange obsession for both Kath and old fashioned Vaudeville-style entertainment that you yearn to see more of him.

For a directing debut this has clearly had significant money thrown at it and, whilst it looks great in a grotty way (think Delicatessen with less panache), it is rather too British for its own good. Though it shuns a fair few cliches this does not make it especially original. The unusual darkness of tone and the fine performances coaxed should make Gross's next project worth investigating.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Black comedy about a dark and dreary hotel spa.
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Director: Terence Gross

Writer: Terence Gross

Starring: Toni Collette, Danial Craig, Stephen Tomkinson, Katrin Cartidge, Peter Vaughn, Hugh O'Conner, Helen McCrory

Year: 2000

Runtime: 98 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK/France


EIFF 2000

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