BBC’s This Country is a breath of fresh air. Set in a sleepy village nestled in the heart of the Cotswolds, the mockumentary — declared the best since The Office — follows Kerry and Kurtan Mucklowe as they deal with the deathly boring normality of rural English life.
Yet it is this stifling sense of nothingness that has made the show so appealing to many and even given it critical acclaim. How many other shows are there that tap into the often forgotten demographic of rural working-class Britain?
In recent years, we have developed a fascination for representing the working-class lifestyle, and rightly so. It provides a varied, colourful backdrop for many plotlines to take place; the perfect setting for a budding screenwriter.
However, whilst the council-block and other urban communities are important in their own right, and well-deserving of air time, we seem to have excluded a whole other group of poorer people in the UK.
I didn’t come from an affluent family, yet I also didn’t grow up in a block of flats. Our town was frowned upon, isolated, and at times dangerous, but we never experienced gang violence or any other major crimes. Outside the London bubble and away from the inner-city lifestyle, there are many people like me who grew up poorer, yet not in the sense that popular television would have you believe.
This Country first aired last year, and immediately I felt as though I was watching something truly different. The mockumentary’s key message is to highlight the unforgotten rural working-class, specifically the young people who are forced to grow up — and more often than not, stay — here.
You’ll be forgiven for thinking that nothing really happens in each episode. In fact, that is essentially the case. It is also the case in these villages and small towns which This Country is based on. Each episode does, however, focus on a problem that rural communities face each day — poor transport links, lack of dating options, little healthcare options, lack of jobs, the list goes on.
While highlighting all these rather crippling and serious issues, we are taken through the lives of Kurtan and Kerry Mucklowe, the cousins (who are real-life siblings) and brains behind the entire show. In interviews, the siblings talk of their own failed ambitions (prior to the show) and how they grew up in a town very similar to that of ‘the village’. They openly admit they based Kerry on a girl they knew who was unnecessarily violent, and there is no doubt that many of the plotlines are troubles and mishaps they faced themselves.
This Country is a perfect example of using your own experiences to your advantage: our class/upbringing doesn’t have to be something we pretend doesn’t exist within our creative endeavours. Many people who grew up in similar situations would probably think that their lives are not interesting enough to warrant a whole TV show, let alone two series. Yet Daisy and Charlie Cooper prove that writing about the ‘boringness’ is actually widely entertaining for those who live it each day. Our marginalised voices don’t have to go unrecognised simply because they are not yet popular. Their recent RTS awards show that in fact, these voices are more marketable than people may previously have thought.
What pleases me most about This Country is that it is not trying to be something it isn’t. Every episode is not a rollercoaster of emotions or far-fetched events. The mundane makes it so beautiful and so relatable; an episode spent mostly in one walk-in clinic or arguing over oven space, are perfect examples of this. The writing is impeccable and comes from a place of experience. The mix of professional and new talent gives it this gritty sense of realism. Charlie is Daisy’s brother, who joined Daisy when she moved back home after he dropped out of university, and thus the show was born. Kerry’s father (Kurtan’s uncle) is their real-life father, though I’m hopeful he’s a more savoury character in reality. Len Clifton (the grumpy old man who has a feud with his neighbour, mainly over the ownership of their wheelie bins) is their uncle. And Slegs — despite how he’s portrayed — is a long-term close friend and inspiration for his on-screen character.
Could a mockumentary to this authenticity have been achieved without the writers and actors’ previous lifestyle experiences? Probably not. You’ll never really understand the normality and mundaneness of rural England unless you grew up there and experienced the hardships, both serious and light-hearted.
Will we see more faith from the entertainment industry shown in similar creative projects? I hope so, yet I’m doubtful. It’s a shame, as there is obviously a huge market of people who truly connect to the stories of Kerry and Kurtan and who would love to see more like them — this area really is crying out to be marketed. Yet for years mainstream entertainment has deemed our stories too boring and not special enough to make it on the big screen. I hope the continued success of This Country proves the elitists wrong.