sat 15/06/2024

The Trip, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews

The Trip, BBC Two

The Trip, BBC Two

Inventive and funny road-cum-buddy movie with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon

Table manners: Rob Brydon (left) and Steve Coogan in 'The Trip'

There’s an interesting back story to The Trip. Before Rob Brydon was “discovered” by Steve Coogan’s Baby Cow production company in 2000, he was a workaday comic and Coogan was then at the height of his Alan Partridge-induced success.

Since then Brydon has become a household name, not least for his role as Uncle Bryn in Gavin and Stacey, while Coogan these days features in the media more for his, er, interesting private life than his undoubted comedy genius, which some critics suggest has been on the wane.

In 2005, director Michael Winterbottom brought the two comics together in A Cock and Bull Story - itself a weird but wonderful concoction that played with the play-within-a-play idea - and all these things, plus many more beautifully crafted elements, have gone into making The Trip, as idiosyncratic a piece of television you will ever see, in which Brydon and Coogan play versions of themselves.

The set-up is that Coogan has been commissioned by The Observer to write reviews of Michelin-starred restaurants in the North of England and, recently dumped by his much younger American girlfriend, invites Brydon along for company - but, as he pointedly tells the Welshman, only after several other friends have turned him down because they’re too busy.

What follows is a sort of road-cum-buddy movie, much of it improvised, in which the two “sort of” friends bicker, reminisce, eat lots of free lunches, make snide comments about each other’s lives and riff off each other to a stunning backdrop of some of the UK’s most beautiful countryside. The Trip is not remotely for foodies, however, as despite plentiful shots of their food being prepared (in last night’s opener at The Inn at Whitewell in Lancashire), it’s soon clear that Coogan has no real interest in cuisine and, as Brydon gleefully makes fun of, doesn’t know the purpose of tasting wine when it is first served.

There’s affectionate piss-taking - “Why not use SatNav?” Brydon asks as Coogan pedantically runs through the list of A and B roads he will drive along en route - and moments that subtly probe Coogan’s supposed vulnerabilities. A master swordsman, he’s strangely unwilling to share a large double bed with his old mate because, he tells Brydon, “You might touch my bum,” and he’s miffed that he goes unrecognised while Brydon is obviously well known and well liked. And as anyone who has spent time with comics knows - trust me on this - they are ferociously competitive; much comedy comes from Brydon and Coogan’s constant one-upmanship, here shown in frequent lapses into the impressions with which they both started their careers, and last night ended in what can only be described as a Michael Caine-off. It’s obvious that some scenes had many retakes as the two frequently appear on the verge of corpsing, but Winterbottom has tightly edited the six-part series (released in some territories as a feature-length film) to keep such self-indulgence at bay. The DVD extras should be fun, though.

It may be that you have to be a fan of either Coogan or Brydon to enjoy The Trip fully, but I think not. What is essentially an exploration of Coogan’s perceived - possibly even real - persona as a dark and troubled clown could have been an embarrassing piece of postmodern navel-gazing, but is instead a wry, touching and often funny study of friendship and fame. All in all, it’s a beautifully judged and original piece of comedy.

Watch the Michael Caine-off from The Trip

As anyone who has spent time with comics knows - trust me on this - they are ferociously competitive

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