I Bought A Rainforest – TV review

Illegal loggers, shifty Tito and a coca crop – Charlie's 100 acres of rainforest is full of surprises

Charlie has bought a rainforest in Peru. Well, if you can call 100 acres – that's 0.4 square kilometres, I believe, or enough room for approximately one 50th of a jaguar to roam about in – a rainforest. But I Bought A Rainforest (BBC2, Sunday) is a better title for a TV show than I Bought A Bit Of Land.

It's not primary forest either, but secondary, meaning it has been chopped down before. Not that Charlie – affable, handsome wildlife photographer Charlie Hamilton James, last seen splashing around an English river with his family – probably knew. He forgot one of the fundamental rules of property purchase: always view before you buy.

Anyway, it looks promising when he turns up in the middle of the night after a long drive down from the Andes into the Amazon. There are trees, and insects, and all the right noises. A river runs through, so Charlie can wash away the dirt and the worries. Watch out for piranhas, Charlie, and those little worms that swim up your urethra and then on up into your brain, which they eat, slowly, and painfully ... unless I've got that wrong, it's just possible.

Hello, what's this? Upon further exploration of his new land, Charlie finds ... Charlie! No, not self-discovery in the jungle, but a crop of coca. Bingo, he's lucked out big time and bought himself a drug plantation! He can become a baron, Don Carlos, build himself a jungle lab and cut an airstrip through the trees. Who knows, maybe there'll be gold in that river too. Happy days for the Hamilton Jameses – no more splashing around in cold rivers, they'll be off to the Bahamas

No? That's not what he had in mind? He's here to make a difference, not a fortune; to save the rainforest, restore his little patch, as well as to stop loggers entering Manu national park to cut down the trees. He wants to find out what's going on, try to do something to stop it and raise awareness … To be honest, Charlie doesn't really know what he's here to do. But the coca plantation, and the little logging cabin he finds, and the threatening messages written on the rocks, and the fact that Tito the dodgy geezer who sold him the land seems to still be on it, and still cutting down the trees – well, none of this is really helping. "It worries me that at any moment a load of guys on motorbikes could turn up with guns and do me over," Charlie says, unhappily. "I'm useless at doing anything but take photos."

It's hard not to feel for him, though from a television point of view it's also hard not to think that the guys on the motorbikes with the guns, Tito, drugs, illegal logging etc would improve it. Kind of Survivor meets The Mosquito Coast meets Apocalypse Now meets Breaking Bad ...

Oh, Charlie chickens out, leaves his land and goes off to a neighbouring reforestation programme to do the only thing he's not useless at. He takes photos, beautiful photos of insects, spiders, snakes and birds, all the stuff that's in danger, against a white background. He climbs a tree, because that's something everyone making a film about the rainforest has to do. But also to collect and record all the things that live in the tree, because this ancient mahogany is for the chop. Legally, in this case, but controversially, nevertheless. On a happier note, Charlie sees some uncontacted indigenous ladies on a beach.

Moved and spurred on to do his bit by the demise of the tree and all its inhabitants, and the sight of the indigenous people, and because this is I Bought A Rain Forest, not I Went To Someone Else's Rainforest, Charlie returns to his own land, to take on Tito and his son … who turn out to be disappointingly polite and unarmed.

Yeah, but there's still the coca, and the threats on the rocks, and the motorcycle gangs: there's sure to be trouble ahead in the two remaining episodes. Plus Mrs HJ is coming out to join him, we see in the trailer – possibly to put a stop to any ideas her handsome fella might be having of making (first) contact with the girls from the beach. Perhaps the Hamilton Jameses will go native themselves, naked at least.

Look, and there is gold coming up, here is Charlie panning for it, a wicked glint in his eye. No talk of conservation now; it's about grabbing what you can while there's still something left. He's going over to the dark side, Don Carlos. The airstrip won't be long, just as soon as those trees are cut down.


Sam Wollaston

The GuardianTramp

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