This Country review – return of the sublime Cotswolds mockumentary

More comic perfection from brother and sister writers and actors Charlie and Daisy Cooper, revealing the tedium of country life for young people. Plus, The Seven Year Switch

Through what I presumed to be the malign manoeuverings of the malevolent gods of television, this is the first chance – as we come to the second episode of its second series - I have had to review This Country, the sublime creation of brother and sister double-act Charlie and Daisy May Cooper.

In this purported documentary about the difficulties faced by young people in rural areas, the real-life siblings play cousins Kurtan and Kerry Mucklowe, whose life of unrelenting tedium in their tiny Cotswold village is alleviated only by Kerry’s slavish self-mythologising as a feared local legend – despite the fact that her gang is composed entirely of year sevens – and the small stirrings deep within Kurtan (a perilous few per cent brighter than Kerry) that there might be an indefinable something better, somewhere else. Oh, and the annual scarecrow festival of course.

We left them at the end of series one running through the Gloucestershire countryside after Kurtan decided not to leave Kerry and take up his GNVQ offer at Swindon College that had briefly promised and threatened to change their lives. Last week, at the beginning of series two, the old ways have firmly re-established themselves, although the vicar has started trying to teach Kerry golf while he tries to imbue in her an idea of trying to meet the world with kindness rather than hostility. Given that Kerry returns after every game to a (screeching, unseen) mother instructing her to “scoop the shite” out of her skidmarked knickers before she puts them in the wash, the vicar is to be congratulated on his optimism.

In this episode, Kurtan gets a labouring job with Kerry’s worthless bully of a father, Martin (“Dad! Dad!” pipes Kerry with such bright, futile hope and unstoppable desperation every time she bumps into him that you long to reach through the screen and kick his arse up between his ears), which goes about as well as you would expect. “A hard hat won’t protect you from banter,” Kerry explains. “Kurtan’s just going to drown – like a pig in the sea. If they start making fun of his nan, or his birthmark …” Kerry is upset by a series of letters she has received from a man about punched lungs and being smashed against walls. Kurtan explains that he is not threatening to beat her up but hoping she will hurt him (“Your hands are like spanners”). “That’s all right then,” says Kerry, relieved until Kurtan explains the nature of the writer’s underlying fantasies. “A sexual thing,” explains Kerry to the camera, anxious again, “is not my area of expertise.”

It’s perfection. Everyone and everything is rendered by the Coopers, as actors and as writers, with such precision, comic deftness and perfect balance, on the knife-edge between hilarity and the absolute horrors of reality that if you weren’t so busy laughing you would be prostrating yourself in awe at the Nike-clad feet of their greatness.

The Seven Year Switch, Channel 4
The Seven Year Switch, Channel 4. Photograph: Channel 4 Television

At the other end of the scale there was Channel 4’s The Seven Year Switch, which is – and just excuse me for a moment while I gently move aside the cornucopia of nuanced critical and analytical terms I have at my disposal, because they won’t be needed for a while – a pile of shite. The premise is simple. Take four couples experiencing difficulties in their marriages – in this case, Tony and Gemma are currently living apart because he’s longing for a taste of the single life because they have been together since they were 15; George and Michelle are feeling the weight of his chauvinist expectations; Tom and Rachel are suffering from the fact that he is essentially still 12 and won’t grow up; and Simon is throwing all his energies into work and rugby while his wife Nikki barely makes it to third on his list. (The location of your sympathies may change slightly, but never in the direction of George or Tony).

Then you split them up and swap them round, and put each new pairing in a luxurious villa on a Thai island for a fortnight and film what unfolds. To make sure something unfolds that is worth filming, each villa has just the one double bed.

It is basically putting people in the way of temptation and stressing their marriages (all of which have born children) for ratings. And, not to sound too much like your aged Catholic aunt, it is unforgivable. There is a “relationship therapist” there to give a veneer of civilisation to the thing, but it doesn’t work. It is a shabby and corrupt business that should be staked as soon as possible through its black, black heart. And I will send Kerry Mucklowe round with her spanner-hands to punch the lungs of anyone who says different.

  • This article was amended on Wednesday 7 March. We originally referred to the This Country character Kerry as Kelly.


Lucy Mangan

The GuardianTramp

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