The Trip to Greece, the final instalment of the Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon travelogue begins in a quiet garden restaurant in Troy.
Not in Greece but Turkey, and they are quick to make a point of this. This is indeed the starting point of the 10-year Odyssey of Ulysses, which is the same breadth of time this comedic Odyssey has endured. Beginning in the Lakes District of England in 2010, followed by the Trip to Italy four years later, and then a third instalment in 2017 in Spain.
And now it’s Greece. Only this journey will take a mere six days, which is far too brief to cover such a vast cultural behemoth they are conveniently drawing from. They do have a trusty copy of Aristotle’s Poetics in their back pocket to guide them. As much to justify their shortcomings, as well as their strengths.
Like all previous trips their Epicurean chatter will centre around food, literature, majestic scenery and endless imitations of film stars and radio personalities. There will be no surprises here; this is a formula that works, and it is the English doing the Greeks. Again. So the impressions of ancient days can border on the sentimental.
Doing the fourth instalment of this series must have taken quite a lot convincing, with all parties, on both sides of the camera. There’s such a thing as pushing your luck, and Coogan expressed his distrust in the first sequel back in 2014, in Italy. It was then eclipsed by the much more charming, Trip to Spain. Maybe things do get worse before they get better.
Coogan didn’t seem to be in his happy place in 2014 but three years later he was back to his chipper, leaner and sharper self. What happened in between? Brydon on the other hand stays the same throughout, an unwavering constant. This is probably because his real life is less chaotic than Coogan’s.
All four instalments toy with the real and fictional and it can get confusing about what is biographically factual. It can hinder the more crucial moments when they are attempting to lean towards authenticity. From comedy to tragedy? It’s usually more effective the other way round. Both these men are masters of the metaphysics of what is really true or not. Often these counter-attacks work and occasionally they fail. But this is a typical risk that accompanies these forms of ‘reality’ driven improvisations.
There is a quality of the Seven Up documentaries to this franchise, if we can call it that, because this final trip, although the least successful is probably the most poignant. It’s merit being the decisive ingredient of a much greater whole. That is, two British chums sharing the transitional phase of descending or ascending into Middle Age.
It also charts the trajectory of their interconnecting relationships with their children, wives, ex-wives and managers. Illustrating this project’s core intentions to view these landscapes, and all the lives moving through them as nuanced, contradictory, deeply flawed, sometimes completely ridiculous and in the end, forgivable.
A decade has passed, Coogan seems lighter and less grumpy but this doesn’t help his more consistent companion, Brydon. Almost as if he needs his sparring partner to be cruel and intolerant, for his jokes to really work. Again demonstrating there’s no Comedy without darkness to precede it. That darkness does come, where one of these clowns wins and the other loses. It’s always the same lesson, the consequences of personal choice, and the dichotomy is appropriately Greek, order or chaos and the freedoms and traps that arise from this.
The other great loss, while viewing all of these Trips, is to realise right now no one can enjoy any of these landscapes or the restaurants, which have been so beautifully documented here. Right across Europe and the world. Mobility and access are now out of bounds, the very cornerstones of all these pleasures. All of the arts depend on it.
That time has gone, it would seem…for now.
‘The Trip to Greece’ is available on variety of digital platforms including iTunes, Apple TV and Amazon Prime.