Did we like it?
An entertaining, perhaps too entertaining, documentary about the crippling of the countryside because of ignorant central and local government centred on a filmmaker who enjoyed being the centre of attention perhaps a little too much.
What was good about it?
• Tim Samuels has his eyes set on the throne of dopey, good-natured documentary filmmakers vacated by the enduring absence of Louis Threroux from our screens. While not as wilfully dumb as Louis with his questions that subtlety supply his targets not just with enough rope to hang themselves but with enough to stage an impromptu performance of The Pirates of Penzance, Tim’s benign approach to everyone from the villagers to councillors to government ministers to schoolchildren meant he quickly got them on-side and enabled him to lightly extract facts and opinions which he and his team then embroidered into an absorbing narrative back in the edit suite.
• Lanreath was an ideal subject for Tim’s pity, with no pub or post office and the local school condemned to closure when the pupil numbers drop from 19 to just 12. Those people who Tim did pick out to illustrate the paucity of hope encapsulated the despair that embraces rustic communities the length and breadth of the country.
• For those people unaware of why there is such a fuss over the closure of post offices need only listen to the words of the elderly ladies on Widows’ Row. Their passion for the post office wasn’t rooted in posting letters or buying a pint of milk, it was far more than that – they enjoyed the walk there and back and the chance to meet and chat with friends, pleasures which they had been denied since the closure two years previously.
• And Tim’s visit to Jeffrey, a dairy farmer who was milking his cows for the final time before selling them was touching. With supermarkets apparently paying one third less for milk than 10 years ago, many farmers are being forced out of the market; indeed some have even committed suicide. Jeffrey’s wife had made him promise that he wouldn’t take such drastic action.
• The impish children mocking Tim over how old he was.
• The “annexation of Islington” was juvenile, shoddy, futile, and undertaken by villagers encouraged to perpetuate every rural stereotype under the sun (Morris Dancers? Loose bowelled cattle?). It was also very funny, especially when the officious security guards turned up to demand the end of the invasion.
• Even though the school was closed down, the pub was reopened and the public lavatories were converted into a new post office to give the Widows a new sanctuary, and Siobhan even labelled a sheepish Tim as Lanreath’s fairy godmother.
What was bad about it?
• Tim’s ignorance of rural life sometimes made the film appear as if was made by uninformed city dwellers for uninformed city dwellers, who would then tut-tut in disapproval, have their hackles marginally raised by the plight of Lanreath, donate £3 to Greenpeace to assuage their consciences before going back to moaning about how bad the traffic is in the morning while pouring supermarket milk on their Cornflakes.
• Tim was well aware of his faults conceding “I haven’t the foggiest about the countryside”; a statement that exacerbates his sin of exclaiming that Lanreath was “picture postcard slice of life” – an attitude typical of anyone who doesn’t see a patchwork of green fields unless careering to or from London by train or car.
• To get a flavour of the countryside, Tim accompanied Siobhan and her sons on a walk in the local woods. As Siobhan’s sons swung across a river by rope, Tim marvelled that “it was like stepping back 50 years in time”, when in fact it was more like stepping 50 miles from his carbon-monoxide stained front door. As youths, we often played in the local woodland and went on the rope swing – before coming home in the evening and playing videogames.
• Another example of a forced impression of a rural paradise was that “Benjamin and his friends just wander up the hill to the village school. No Chelsea tractors.” Again, this is nothing remarkable for a rural community and seems only to have been highlighted to impress and awe urbanites.
• But the worst instance was when Tim accompanied a group of mothers and children as walked to the school the evicted children would attend should Lanreath’s school close. Clambering over a stile, Tim exclaimed in his best ‘this is outrageous’ voice: “This is a designated footpath? Through someone’s field?” Again, this is a common fact of rural life and smacked either of astonishingly poor research on Tim’s behalf or a cynical attempt to make his target urban audience indignant with vicarious anger on the children’s behalf.
• A little further on, Tim’s trek was stopped in its tracks by that tyrannosaur of Cornwall – the cow! Admittedly, his party did contain young children so that may have mitigated his timidity but instead he hid behind “BBC health and safety”. Aside from sloths, cows are the only animal more docile alive than dead and walking through a field in which they reside is perfectly safe so long as you give them a wide berth, while Tim’s assertion that it was a field full of bulls was nothing short of absurd as there is only ever one bull in a field otherwise they would fight.
• All of which provoked you to question Tim’s motives – was he doing this to nobly save a rural community from destruction or to selfishly raise his own profile? On reflection, it was perhaps a bit of both as Tim was the star of too many of the superfluous but amusing scenes such as failing to get up for his 4am appointment with the dairy farmer or slipping on a hillside while shepherding sheep.
• Scenes that appeared to have been included at the neglect of more important issues such as the absence of a chat with people who had bought second-homes in the area, indirectly exiling local people to the cities, or an interview with someone from a supermarket about why they are pricing dairy farmers out of the market.
• In fact, interviews are clearly not a strength of Tim’s as he press-ganged the schoolchildren to appeal to the ogres on the local council’s sense of guilt, a trick he repeated with the schools minister. Meanwhile, he had arranged an interview with a minister at the DTI about closure of post offices, but this was cancelled and was ultimately reduced to Tim breathlessly asking questions that have been asked a thousand times before in similar interviews as the minister dashed across London to appear on Channel 4 News.