Pilgrimage: The Road To Santiago
The Durrells, based on the memoirs of the writer Gerald Durrell who grew up on Corfu, has returned for a third series. I must have read his books umpteen times when I was growing up, but as I can’t recall his brother Leslie dating three women who all turn up at the house simultaneously and have to be kept apart in the manner of a Brian Rix farce, the show may now owe less to the source text and rather more to the imagination of its writer Simon Nye. It is, perhaps, TV based on the principles of homeopathy, involving substances so diluted they only have a distant memory of the original agent. True, some people swear by homeopathy, but they do tend to be idiots. Or mad. Or both.
Keeley Hawes as Louisa the matriarch is terrific; so terrific it’s hard to believe she was ever Line Of Duty’s crazy-fringed Lindsay Denton
Yet The Durrells is a Sunday-night hit, and I can see that, in its way, it is the perfect Sunday-night-hit package. Corfu is gorgeous. The spilling sunlight is gorgeous. The tea dresses are gorgeous. And, scorpions aside, the animals are gorgeous. It is also set in the 1930s so the nostalgia is gorgeous. Further, it isn’t a drama where you have to brace yourself for murder or rape or missing children who have been sex-trafficked (the ending of Save Me… WTF!) or… ahem… bad language, and it isn’t a police procedural. Should the Durrells require a police officer, you just know the officer will be a handsome Greek fella who will flirt with Louisa while talking charming broken English because, in three years, the family have yet to learn a word of Greek. It is intended as ‘escapist’ television, as a retreat from a dark world and work on Monday morning, but I just can’t escape my brain telling me, ‘Three years, and not a word of Greek? Are they bohemian intellectuals or just lazy white colonialists, pray?’
I know. I should just succumb to the ‘warmth’ and the ‘charm’ and the glittering Ionian sea and Gerry’s pet flamingos and Larry falling over the dog and the first X-ray machine to arrive on the island and Aunt Hermione (Barbara Flynn) being soft as anything under all that hmphing, and I try. I truly do. And Keeley Hawes as Louisa the matriarch is terrific; so terrific it’s hard to believe she was ever Line Of Duty’s crazy-fringed Lindsay Denton. But this is a walk in the park for her, and as for and as for the plots, they constantly fail my ‘Ten Minutes In Test’. In other words, from ten minutes in you know exactly where it is going to go, and that all the girlfriends will turn up while Leslie learns a lesson about love. However, it did not fail my ‘Two Minutes In Test’ but we did have The Good Karma Hospital following straight afterwards on ITV for that…
Let’s move on to Pilgrimage: The Road To Santiago, and the first thing to say is that in the Bible, God tested women in many ways. Sarah was kept childless until she was 90. Ruth had to schlep miles and miles through the desert. Miriam was only a little girl when she was called upon to save Moses. But show Kate Bottley, the vicar from Gogglebox, a bit of a hill and she’s in tears. ‘I can’t take another step. I can’t do it!,’ she will weep. ‘I just don’t want to be here… If there were a taxi to take me to the airport right now I’d be in it.’ It’s that, over and over. I’m not saying she wouldn’t save Moses but what if he were upstairs and she were downstairs? Could she be trusted? Frankly, I think I’d trust Debbie McGee more.
This three-part travelogue is following seven celebrities as they hike though France and Spain in the manner of medieval pilgrims. They are meant to be exploring ‘life’s big questions’ as they trudge – and heave Kate along – but they are not. Except, that is, in those instances when a monk is put before them and it’s: ‘Here’s a monk. Now, discuss faith everybody, please.’ Still, although the first week’s episode was uneventfully bland, this week did see an improvement, mainly because the life stories of some of the ‘pilgrims’ are quite fascinating. There’s the TV presenter JJ Chalmers, a former marine who was blown up in Afghanistan, and Raphael Rowe, the journalist who was wrongfully imprisoned for 12 years, and the actor Neil Morrisey, who remembers being taken into care at 10. He remembers being in court when ‘my brother was taken out of one door and I didn’t see him again for ten years’. Also, while on the road, Heather Small from M People encountered a racist reaction that was supremely chilling.
But you have to wonder what we’re not being told. As the walk usually takes a month and they’re doing it in a fortnight, might coaches be involved? Was that in Kate’s rider, even? Still, it’s better than most shows of this type, yet not as good as our favourite, The Real Marigold Hotel, which returns later this year with Selina Scott and Susan George and… The Krankies! So is there a God? Has to be. Yes.