TV REVIEW: Michael Palin and Richard E Grant

This TV Review first appeared in the Andersonstown News

TV travel documentaries fronted by a celebrity are becoming as common as Covid. There were two on telly last week, one after the other.

The first featured Michael Palin and was called Michael Palin’s Himalaya: The Journey of a Lifetime (BBC2) .

In it, Palin reflects on the time he journeyed from the Khyber Pass,  through Pakistan and India, then up to the Everest base camp. On the way he stopped to have the shortest of chats with the Dalai Lama and to marvel at  the young monks who surround him. How could they bear to live such lives of austerity and cold and isolation?

Several other famous travellers, including David Attenborough and Joanna Lumley, commented on Palin’s style, which was another way of commenting on the man. Palin is modest, devoid of self-importance, interested in everybody he meets and every place he goes. He doesn’t, as an outsider, judge. He respects and rejoices in all that is different.

He’s also human. As he climbs higher and higher towards Everest, the amazing Sherpas bent with the weight of his equipment trotting ahead of him, he feels the intense exhaustion brought on by altitude. And then they finally reach base camp, and he enthuses like a schoolboy at the beauty and majesty of Mount Everest (he compares it to Queen Victoria, always elevated over those around her).  Palin is a man with an inner child who glories in the world’s variety and beauty.

The second travel programme – WRITE AROUND THE WORLD WITH RICHARD E GRANT (BBC FOUR) – was the same and different. Grant is an actor who has appeared in some seriously good movies, so like Palin, he came trailing clouds of glory behind him.

The WRITE part of WRITE AROUND THE WORLD was that Grant was following the journeys taken by different writers. He started with Robert Louis Stevenson, when he was coping with tuberculosis and a broken heart.  Stevenson’s journey started  in the Cévennes mountains of southern France,  with nothing but a donkey for company. Grant does the same, pausing to read from Stevenson’s account of his journey. Then Grant arrives at the Catholic monastery Our Lady of the Snows, and marvels at the silence and the dedication of the monks in this solitary place.

Both Palin and Grant take fascinating journeys but maybe I shouldn’t have watched Palin first.  His modesty and conversational style made Grant’s more scripted commentary jar.  In the final analysis, Grant is too much of an actor while Palin is a complete human being.

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