Joanna Lumley's Trans-Siberian Adventure

Joanna Lumley is a good fit for the celebrity travelogue: a game-for-anything sort who makes hockey sticks seem positively sullen, she’s well-bred enough to take an enthusiastic interest in everything around her, without ever getting too excited, because that would be vulgar.

This Trans-Siberian ‘adventure’ (she keeps calling it that, even though not much happens, really) follows her 6,000-mile journey from China to Russia via ‘romantic Mongolia, the land of Genghis Khan’. Ah yes, Genghis, the old romantic.

Initially, the lack of incident in Sunday’s opening installment was a bit embarrassing: here’s Joanna working out how to use a ticket machine; here she is marveling at the size of her (ordinary-sized) train window. And they tell you to ‘mind the gap’ in Hong Kong, too – just like back home! Amazing.

Thankfully, things picked up in Beijing, and a memorable visit to a Chairman Mao-themed restaurant where the noodles came with a side order of heroic chapters from the Great Leap Forward (death toll: 40 to 70 million). What next? McStalins? Mussolini Hut?

At the Yungang Grottoes near Datong, where 51,000 Buddhas are carved into the rocks, we met tour guide Jason, a spiritual sort who worried for modern China’s soul. ‘Money is god,’ he lamented. ‘We don’t have time to learn about art. So our heart is not complete.’ Lummers indulged in a spot of cross-cultural pot-stirring by telling him to reject his parents’ wishes for an arranged marriage and follow his poet’s heart. I hope that ends well for him.

Next came a private tour of a remote part of the Great Wall of China. ‘Gosh,’ said Lummers, when the going got a bit challenging, ‘this looks a bit ribbley-rubbley.’ If there’s a more Joanna Lumley sentence in the world than that, I’ve yet to hear it – though I did enjoy her mildly appalled musings on why bogies (as in train wagons) have to share their name with ‘a nostril event’.

Disembarking in Mongolia, our host submitted herself to the ritual ministrations of a local shaman who, she told us, had ‘spanked’ the future badness spanked out of her. ‘Which was quite good,’ she added, cheerily.

Told you she was game for anything.

TV extra:

Agent Carter

Forget spandex, Agent Peggy Carter – first introduced in Marvel’s Captain America movies – goes into battle in an A-line skirt and a slash of scarlet lipstick, hourglass figure set to stun. She’s also the smartest secret agent in 1940s New York, with a killer right-hook, to boot, but that doesn’t stop her fellow spooks treating her like a glorified secretary.

Like most Marvel fare, Agent Carter is utter hokum – but stylish, witty hokum, with a sassy lead turn from Hayley Atwell as a comic book character boys will be in no hurry to grow out of.

The Outcast

Sadie Jones’ adaptation of her acclaimed coming-of-age novel started in that drowsy, post-war summer idyll so beloved of TV drama commissioners, but soon took a darker turn as its young protagonist, Lewis, lost his mother in a truly traumatic drowning scene. Left with his cold, remote father (Greg Wise) and his nervy new wife (Jessica Brown Findlay), Lewis grew into a deeply troubled young man (George MacKay), shunned by all around him. The result is a handsome but rather desolate slice of Sunday night existentialist angst that’s more Dostoyevsky than Downton.

 

Published in Waitrose Weekend, July 16, 2015

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