by Allan Fish
(UK 2010 172m) DVD1/2
Gentlemen to bed
p Andrew Eaton, Melissa Parmenter d Michael Winterbottom w Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon ph Ben Smithard ed Mags Arnold, Paul Monaghan
Steve Coogan (Steve), Rob Brydon (Rob), Claire Keelan (Emma), Margo Stilley (Mischa), Rebecca Johnson (Sally), Kerry Shale, Dolya Gavanski, Ben Stiller,
Michael Winterbottom’s A Cock and Bull Story detailed the making of a fictional adaptation of Sterne’s Tristram Shandy. In it, the leads were played by Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon who also played the actors playing them, themselves. At least, nearly themselves, for while their career details were carried over intact their private lives were fabrications, and the rest of the cast played semi-fictional variations of themselves in addition to their allotted parts in the novel. It didn’t quite work, but it was full of brilliant moments and it’s obvious the experience planted an acorn in the minds of stars and director alike.
Five years on, the oak has grown to maturity, and Steve and Rob – again playing themselves but with fictional private lives – return as their alter egos. Steve has been commissioned by the Observer magazine to write a series of reviews of top flight restaurants in the north – The Inn at Whitewell, L’Enclume at Cartmel, Holbeck Ghyll near Ambleside, Hipping Hall near Kirkby Lonsdale, The Yorke Arms nearPateleyBridgeand The Angel Inn in the Yorkshire Dales. He had hoped to take his girlfriend Mischa – partly for the company and partly because she was a food connoisseur who could have helped him write the reviews – but she had returned to the States. After several other turn-downs, he turns to Rob, who accepts and they set off for their week-long sojourn.
What makes their relationship so special is here are two comic actors who are not afraid to have the audience have a view of them that isn’t exactly glowing. Steve’s alter ego is egocentric, jealous and neurotic, sees himself as God’s gift to the opposite sex (“women are my windmills and I tilt at them”), tries to put down Rob’s career at every turn and hates it when Rob can do something better than him. Rob is genial but with self-doubts of his own. It’s not so much a friendship as a put-up-with-each-other-ship, a comic bout to decide who has had the most worthwhile career, who can do the best impressions of certain actors, and who has the finer grasp of not only restaurant table etiquette – such as taster menus, how to test the wine – but even the finer points of Wordsworth and Coleridge. It results in a sort of duelling impressionists, in which everyone from Richard Burton and Anthony Hopkins to Ronnie Corbett and Bruce Forsyth, from Sean Connery and Roger Moore to Harry H.Corbett and Wilfrid Brambell is brought to the table. Oh, and Michael Caine, the catalyst for so much of their sparring.
There are some priceless moments to be had away from the restaurant tables, though, from conversations on costume dramas to defeats by stepping stones, trips to Bolton Abbey and Dove Cottage and arguing on why they’ll use maps not Sat Nav through their journey. It all comes to an end as these things are wont to do, and there’s a hug between the two of them at the end that begins reluctantly but hides a deep affection, if tinged with mutual mistrust. The backdrops are stunning, if familiar to yours truly, and there are references to so many of the stars’ earlier careers and indeed the director’s (Margo Stilley from 9 Songs as the absent girlfriend). Most subtly there’s the use on more than one occasion of an instrumental version of Michael Nyman’s lament for Rochester from The Libertine (Nyman’s back catalogue had also featured heavily in A Cock and Bull Story). And when one considers there was literally no script, the entire thing improvised by the cast, one can forgive a certain ramshackle feel to proceedings that cannot help but lead to some repetition. So that, if Alan Partridge was always a creation to make one admire Coogan more than like him, The Trip is simply a joy, to be savoured in much the same way as one might savour a visit from an old friend.