While major highways make traveling across the country, any country, a lot faster, than it otherwise would be. Of course, things are lost along the way. Small towns that used to attract numerous tourists on their way from one place to another start to disappear. Superhighways make travel so much faster that the small towns people used to stay in overnight to break up a trip aren't needed as a rest stop anymore. There's something a little sad and distressing about this, it's a sign that there is good and bad that goes with every change.
Okay, so the above is a lesson we learned watching Pixar's Cars, which lamented the loss in popularity of Route 66 here in the United States. It's also something Robbie Coltrane tries to show us about Britain in the about to be released on DVD television series, Robbie Coltrane: Incredible Britain.
In this country Coltrane is perhaps best known for his portrayal of Hagrid in the Harry Potter films, however he has taken his share of leading parts as well. He played the lead in the British series Cracker and starred opposite Eric Idle in Nuns on the Run.
Over the course of three, almost hour-long, episodes of this series, Coltrane takes an incredibly circuitous route from London to his hometown of Glasgow, taking the “B roads” instead of the major highways. Along his way, Coltrane watches (and often participates in) local oddities. He does everything from cheat on a cooking contest, watch a rugby match played with a beer keg, and pop a wheelie in a fire truck.
Coltrane drives from town to town in a classic, convertible Jaguar roadster, amused, bemused, and bewildered at what his fellow countrymen are up to. He never seems to spend too long with anyone, he just sort of hops from one thing to the next, staying in towns long enough for people to explain themselves and what it is that they do.
While the people he meets are, usually, funny and interesting, it is Coltrane who is quite clearly the star of the show. By participating in many of the various events he sees (including to help blast rocks) and narrating everything along the way, the story remains, squarely, his. As Coltrane is such a terribly funny individual, with a wonderful self-deprecating sense of humor, each of the three episodes are a pleasure to watch. Even though the story is his, Coltrane never overshadows nor overpowers those he meets. He is simply there, informing, and being funny.
What truly makes the DVD succeed is not just Coltane's humor, but the clear sense of wonder and awe that he has for the various thigns he witnesses, the clear love that he has for Britain and days gone by. He finds some of the things truly silly (like the aforementioned cooking contest), and while he may mock them, he never seems to do so out of malice.
Whether he is watching the destruction of a defunct nuclear power plant, burning his hands trying to make Indian food, or watching grown men roll a piece of wood that they're pretending is Stilton cheese, Coltrane manages to convey a sense of wonder about it all. The three episodes of Incredible Britain pass in a flash, and despite the fact that this was clearly the slowest trip by car from London to Glasgow ever, one wishes that Coltrane had made more stops along the way. It does see a little too fortuitous that so many events are happening at just the right time for Coltrane to see them, and one isn't quite sure that many of the things he sees are going to disappear in the near future, but such quibbles are quickly forgotten when watching the goings-on.
The DVD release of Robbie Coltrane: Incredible Britain includes a brief biography of Coltrane and a “fun facts” map. While neither of these bonuses are terribly spectacular or exciting, Coltrane is and is reason enough to buy the DVD.