‘This Country’ Review
Having spent the first ten years of my childhood growing up in a little village in the Cotswolds called Down Ampney, watching the first episode of the new BBC 3 mockumentary ‘This Country’ (set in Northleach, a village about 10 miles due north of where I spent much of my early life) seemed like a rite of passage. ‘This Country’ isn’t the first hilarious BBC 3 mockumentary, and their clear-cut target audience is yet to change: teenagers, and men who wish they were still teenagers. In 2014, a mockumentary called ‘People Just Do Nothing’ aired for the first time on BBC 3. It focuses on a pirate radio station in the vast London suburbia of Brentford, and is, without a doubt, some of the most entertaining television I’ve ever seen. This, coupled with the fact that the starring sibling duo (Daisy and Charlie Cooper) went to the same primary school as me, gave me high hopes for ‘This Country’: it didn’t disappoint.
BBC 3 have a knack for nailing realism; if I were to be told that the bulk of the cast were pulled in from the street, I wouldn’t question it. Don’t assume this is a bad thing though — it only adds to the hilarity of the show, since I often felt as if I’d seen these people lurking in a bus shelter down Charlham Way. Aptly, the third establishing shot is set in a similar bus shelter only a few miles north. Lee ‘Kurtan’ Mucklowe, named amusingly after his turmoil of a haircut that only a mother could love, begins the episode waxing lyrical about his rare sightings of Cotswold celeb Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen as if the glorified interior designer was an exotic bird of paradise from Planet Earth 2. Immediately, this brought a smile to my face. I remembered my excitement standing in the Cirencester town centre, about eight years old, uniformed smartly in my full Cubs apparel, when LLB himself turned on the Christmas lights. Kurtan’s anecdote is followed by a reminiscence from Kerry Mucklowe, suitably kitted out in a Swindon Town football shirt and Adidas tracksuit bottoms, who adds to the scarce sightings. Kerry glumly references her Co-op encounter with LLB, articulating the hysterical ‘after you’, ‘no, after you’ scenario.
Although the Mucklowe cousins are the true focus of ‘This Country’ and portray life in rural Britain as miscreants with brilliant flair, the citizens they’re surrounded by are an excellent aid in adding to the sense of realism that is so important in the comedy of mockumentaries. The casting is so undeniably pinpoint in mirroring reality, it’s self-evident that much of the crew themselves are descendants of rural middle-England. The Vicar, Rev. Francis Seaton, seems particularly comfortable in his role, which is doubtlessly helped by the stereotype-aligned script packed with polite vicarly euphemisms such as ‘effing and jeffing’. Other minor characters such as ‘Len’ — a grumpy old man who, as he himself would say half-assedly ‘don’t give a toss’ — are spectacular in their diminutive roles.
The first episode is based around a run-of-the-mill village scarecrow festival. Kurtan’s enthusiasm for the event is immediately obvious, and he makes it very clear that he has a Steve Jobs-esque determination to win by any means necessary. Throughout the episode, his obsession for winning unfolds as he unleashes radical tactics. It is undeniable that the Cooper siblings (who clearly have experience of the boredom that runs amuck in the sparse British countryside) accurately mediate the programme’s focus: the burden of free time.
A weakness liable to ruin potentially excellent sitcoms and mockumentaries such as ‘This Country’ is the sin of trying too hard. In avoiding this, I believe ‘This Country’ is triumphant. The language, the acting, the gaffs, the (suspected) improvisation is all excellent, which I believe is down to the fact that the whole crew, namely Daisy and Charlie Cooper, don’t take themselves too seriously. Throughout the first episode, the show doesn’t once succumb to serious undertones or lose its comic aptitude. The reckless misconduct of Kurtan and deft cuts back to normality epitomise this. ‘This Country’ had the option to play it safe and stick to the conventions of the genre, but it doesn’t; instead, it ploughs irreverently over the pseudo-swanky, Land Rover-filled meadows of the stereotypical rural Britain depicted in tantalising, toff-targeted, alternative reality drivel like the ‘Country Life’ magazine — and in giving a comic twist on the harsh reality of the British countryside citizens neglected of income is where the success of this exceptional mockumentary lies.