Mark Herman is a screenwriter-director as synonymous with 1990s British film as any one person can boast, his 1996 and 1998 releases Brassed Off and Little Voice being some of England’s most widely celebrated, critically lauded and culturally piercing releases in the contemporary era, his later work on The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas proving to be a worldwide phenomenon.
Since making a name for himself as a student Oscar winner of short film, the Yorkshire born filmmaker has worked with the likes of Colin Firth, Ewan McGregor and Michael Caine to offer his unique and often specific stories to audiences of all nations and languages across his six feature films to date, his works being nominated for five BAFTAs and an Oscar, and even winning a César award.
His is a directorial catalogue filled with thematic explorations of class, poverty and capitalism, but one that is equally as likely to make you laugh as it is to cry, his often comedy-tinted approach to the dire circumstances in which he writes his characters bringing about endearing and memorable material time and time again.
In this edition of Ranked, we’re looking at those six feature releases and comparing them in terms of artistic merit and cultural worth to find out which film is the worst, which is the best, and which films fall somewhere in between.
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6. Hope Springs (2003)
Far from Mark Herman’s most inspired work, Hope Springs suffers from a complete lack of what brings people to the film in the first place: Colin Firth’s charm. The actor, fresh from his endearing performance in Bridget Jones’ Diary (2001), plays a heartbroken thirty-something Brit looking to mend himself in the one place on the map he could point to in the hope of a life-changing break from normality, Hope Springs (USA). The issue is that Firth is all drama, his character portrayed as dejected, beaten and with very little motivation to so much as open his eyes, and it comes in complete contrast to the rest of the film which is vastly more tongue-in-cheek, his American counterparts on the screen being wholly committed to a more comic sensibility. The juxtaposition is at times embarrassing, and what Herman was trying to say with Hope Springs seems muddled at best due to a screenplay which stops and starts narrative threads time and time again. This is a film that could have had a lot to say regarding British pessimism in opposition to American optimism, or even used the protagonist’s vocation as a portrait artist to offer similar explorations of capitalism to those that are available in the filmmaker’s earlier works, but it doesn’t really do either, instead settling for a disjointed romantic comedy with not very much to offer in terms of romance or comedy. Hope Springs is, in almost every element of filmmaking, the worst movie of Herman’s career; an uncharacteristic misstep from a talented artist with far more to offer.