Monday, April 18, 2011

Those Vital Elements

What is it that makes a story memorable?

Most of us can rattle off a string of elements we consider important and—if you’ve been around the writing game for any length of time—a number of them will probably be correct.

There are a few which are classic. These would include:

A. A character (or characters) we care about.
B. Conflict and challenge for the character(s).
C. Honest dialogue appropriate to the situation.
D. Image-provoking words.
E. A satisfactory conclusion.

I thought about this the other night after watching a delightful film called “The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill And Came Down A Mountain.” It’s a quiet, feel-good film with subtle humor, good acting, excellent cinematography and a pleasant score.

Those, of course, are all good qualities. But to me what makes it truly memorable is the characters and how well they fit the above-mentioned classic elements.

As I said, it’s a simple story. Two British cartographers visit a Welsh coal-mining village in 1917. Their purpose is to measure what is considered “the first mountain inside Wales.” Their calculations determine the mountain is merely a hill. But the villagers have had so much taken away from them by the continuing war they are stunned by this insult to their pride of place.

Hugh Grant is probably the major “star” of the film. But his role is simply overpowered by that of the supporting characters, particularly the arch-rivals Reverend Jones (Kenneth Griffin) and Morgan the Goat (Colm Meaney) who are brought together by Johnny, a shell-shocked soldier (Ian Hart), and inspire the entire village to work together to increase the height of the hill and bring it back to its former glory.

Inspired by a story he heard from his grandfather, the screenplay was written and directed by Christopher Monger. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend checking it out. Monger comes from a family of writers and painters and obviously knows a thing or two about writing. Among his other work is the script for the outstanding HBO bio-pic, “Temple Grandin.”

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