It has been ten years since the first instalment of Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip debuted, following slightly-fictionalised versions of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon on a restaurant tour of Northern England. Largely fictional but with improvised conversations about their real lives and filled with iconic impressions, comedic one-upmanship and Winterbottom’s perfect direction it was an immediate hit and the premise— two actors eating food and discussing their careers— doesn’t do best to sell it. Since 2010 we have seen the pair trying to outdo each other’s Michael Caine impressions in Italy, Spain and now in their (apparently) final excursion to Greece. As the fourth instalment of a series with no major narrative arc and the same premise each time, it’s easy to see how it could become repetitive and tired. But that seems to be part of the joke and what makes The Trip so loved. You know what you’re getting but it’s still funny, charming and sometimes moving. It’s just like an old jumper.
The original plan of retracing the steps of Odysseus’ ten-year journey in Homer’s Odyssey gives the film a vague purpose but we’re not watching for the plot. The real purpose is to watch two of Britain’s brightest comedic performers play a high-calibre verbal tennis match that is as satisfying as it is amusing. The improvisation is clean and bounces perfectly between the pair without losing any naturalism.
However, this philosophical and literary link reveals some of the heavier themes that are lightly dealt with throughout. As previous instalments referenced journey’s taken by Lord Byron, William Wordsworth and Don Quixote; we see ideas and anxieties around masculinity, ageing and identity increasingly weigh on the minds of Coogan and Brydon’s characters. The more we watch, the more the pathos builds as their insecurities start to reveal themselves. There isn’t a moment of silence that goes by without one of them trying to get a laugh in, desperate for reassurance from their assistants, waiters, passersby and anyone that will listen.
We also see this in the only resemblance of a traditional fiction narrative that has been slowly weaved throughout all instalments and relates to Coogan and Brydon’s (fictionalised and scripted) personal lives. This is shown almost entirely through phone calls home and helps to move the film along. As Coogan’s character struggles with news of his father’s illness, the film is punctured with moments of surreal drama in the form of Bergman-esque dream sequences in perfect Winterbottom style.
But it never loses its focus on food and travel. In the restaurants, short bursts of chefs cooking with the sound of cutlery and glasses ringing bookmark the pairs comedic bits. This follows the structure of a documentary but combined with the dream sequences and comedy scenes, Winterbottom steers us away from the film landing in any clear category. His direction sizzles with a sense of place that is casual and soothing enough to let us revel in these conversations for what they are.
At such a time like this, the reaction to this film might differ wildly from person to person; watching two very well-off middle aged men island-hopping around the most breathtaking parts of Greece, eating luxury food and musing on their career and life might be alarmingly depressing for people stuck at home not sure when they’ll ever be able to travel, or be financially stable, again. But for others it may be perfect escapism; an easy watch filled with laughs and beautiful scenery and only a hint of pathos, sprinkled in so lightly it makes it endearing instead of leaving too a heavy feeling. It’s also surprisingly immersive; making us feel we’re on a holiday with the funniest people we know in the most beautiful place we’ve ever been. For a couple of hours at least.
The Trip to Greece is available on VOD now
Madeleine (she/her) is a film student at the University of Winchester currently working on a dissertation on women killers in giallo films. She’s a big horror fan (the tackier the better) and also loves sci-fi and fantasy. Right now, she thinks her favourite films are Pan’s Labyrinth, The Wicker Man and Deep Red but she is also very indecisive. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @madeleinia and Letterboxd here.