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Robbie Coltrane: Incredible Britain

(BBC; US DVD: 15 Jul 2008)

Although known originally in the US as a nun who was indeed on the run, British actor Robbie Coltrane has done his fair share of fine work from Cracker to the Harry Potter series of smash hits,  But with this, a reality series? Well, yes and no.


Coltrane has decided not to tour Europe, the Himalayans or go from the North Pole to the South Pole the way his fellow Brit Michael Palin did (and continues to do). Nor has he opted to go the way of Ewen McGregor and Charley Boorman’s Long Way Around on a motorbike. That would be too much work and who would really want to see that again, although the rather larger-than-life Coltrane on a motorcycle might be an interesting, funny notion.


No, what Coltrane has done with Incredible Britain is a rather novel idea, that is opting to go from London to Glasgow by using what is known in Britain as the “B” roads, namely roads that were the main arteries for travel roughly 50 years ago but which are basically used more now for peaceful, Sunday afternoon jaunts. However, along the way, he finds people, places and locales which aren’t exactly the typical Sunday afternoon fare.


Using a red convertible as his mode of transport, Coltrane begins his trek with the first of many quick, in-and-out, get-the-shot scenes by going to the small town of High Wickham where the mayor of the town is weighed in the town square. It proves to be the format for which Coltrane makes this DVD work rather well.
 
Sure, there are no real dangerous or perilous aspects to the DVD which lasts nearly 140 minutes, but Coltrane is the sort of everyman to pull off even some of the more mundane aspects to the series, whether it’s eating asparagus which has been grown at a family farm for more then seven centuries (and known as a chambermaid’s curse for its foul smell when, well, doing number one).


Spliced with old, stock footage which showcases some of the places and the history of the different regions he works his way through, Incredible Britain isn’t all that incredible, but it is quite an endearing, relaxing and enjoyable series of meetings. Some of the highlights include arriving at the Cock Hotel, which is reportedly where the term “cock and bull story” came into being and Coltrane learning how to pop a wheelie….driving a fire truck.


Probably the oddest moments are those which seem to come from an episode of the BBC comedy Father Ted. Coltrane discovers the “Faster Pastor”, a local clergyman who drives his motorcycle into the church and also provides “motorcycle funeral services”, where the hearse resembles a sidecar. Also memorable are the Cartington Sheds which Coltrane describes rather aptly. “Did you know you could get the Titanic in here? If it hadn’t sunk, obviously,” he quips about the massive barn.


Through it all though, Coltrane’s journey isn’t so much about the places as it is about the people in those locations, from the nuns he chats with in a convent to Chapel Cross in Scotland, where the simple act of four towers being destroyed and torn down brings tears to an elderly couple who met there so many years ago.


The only snag in the DVD is that there are not a lot of extras included, aside from a fun facts map and a bio on Coltrane. But really, there’s not much need for the material given that the main portion holds up quite nicely.


On the whole, because it’s a rather short and fluid journey which doesn’t get bogged down in logistical nightmares or problems, Robbie Coltrane has done a fine job in showing a side of the UK that is well worth checking out.

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Originally from Cape Breton, MacNeil is currently writing for the Toronto Sun as well as other publications, including All Music Guide, Billboard.com, NME.com, Country Standard Time, Skope Magazine, Chart Magazine, Glide, Ft. Myers Magazine and Celtic Heritage. A graduate of the University of King's College, MacNeil currently resides in Toronto. He has interviewed hundreds of acts ranging from Metallica and AC/DC to Daniel Lanois and Smokey Robinson. MacNeil (modestly referred to as King J to friends), a diehard Philadelphia Flyers fan, has seen the Rolling Stones in a club setting, thereby knowing he will rest in peace at some point down the road. Oh, and he writes for PopMatters.com.


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