Did we like it?
A fascinating documentary as presenter Simon Reeve travelled along the line of the equator through some sharply contrasting and sometimes dangerous regions in Africa.
What was good about it?
• Simon Reeve’s excitement every time he crossed the equator was quite amusing, particularly funny was when he was on a train in Gabon and his delight was not matched at all by his bored-looking fellow travellers.
• Reeve’s impressive honesty and forthright opinions. Early in the opening episode, he was held to ransom by a car rental company. In the middle of a rainforest, his drivers received word from their bosses that unless the crew kicked in an extra £1000, the landrovers would return to the capital. The crew were therefore left stranded and while displaying stoicism, Reeve still commented bitterly: “What a bunch of w**kers.”
• The dance by locals in the Congo river that Reeve thought was charming until he heard the translation of their song: “White man your breath stinks.”
• The shocking information that despite the fertility of the Democratic Republic of Congo, 60% of children do not survive past their fifth birthdays.
• The massive presence of the UN in the DRC where there has been steady fighting over mines for years. This was an area we have to admit that we were almost totally ignorant of, yet the huge numbers of foreign soldiers attempting to keep the unstable peace in the area was astonishing.
• The disturbing story of the DRC villagers who were massacred by militias armed with machetes and the sad interview with one of the maimed survivors of the violence.
• The amusing attempts to film some wildlife in Kenya highlighted just what a great job David Attenborough and his team do.
• Footage of the two bulls fighting in Kenya. This was a manic occasion with locals swarming around the two bulls while wearing a bewildering array of costumes. The one that particularly caught our attention was the man who wore a skinned rat as a hat.
• Reeve’s chat with the Kenyan circumcisors. They claimed to be able to circumcise 100 men in an hour, although they admitted they had to be careful not to become too frenzied by the chanting…
• The haunting refugee camp in Dadaab, near Somalia, that has existed for 25 years. Somalis are stuck there, unwilling and unable to go back to their dangerous homeland and simply not allowed to go further into Kenya. Again, we were largely ignorant of the terrible plight of these people and the programme was able to relate their story without resorting to mawkishness.
What was bad about it?
• Reeve started the show making several very Western-style judgements about Gabon and its architecture, the cars on display and their import policy that seemed rather flippant and even sneering.
• After Reeve and his crew were dumped in the rainforest by the unprincipled car company, he explained that they’d have to trek the rest of the way. The programme then cut to them reaching some kind of civilisation. We were given no clue as to how arduous their journey was, or how far they were forced to trek, which seemed odd.
• It was a shame that this entire trip across Africa was crammed into one hour. Intriguing documentaries could have been made about any one of the countries Reeve visited and sometimes we felt that we would love to have seen what was left on the cutting room floor.
• Reeve is an engaging host and laudably sticks to his own style, but he lacks the natural wit or even gravitas of someone like Michael Palin. This is strange considering that Reeve has written well-received journalistic books about the future of terrorism and the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre. There just seems a sense that Reeve may have been asked to appeal to the widest audience possible – consequently the programme occasionally seemed to lack a certain journalistic insight.