TV review: Miriam Margolyes: Almost Australian

Benjie Goodhart / 17 July 2020

A new three-part series sees Miriam Margolyes drive a motorhome across Australia to find out about the country she loves so much.

Miriam Margolyes: Almost Australian, Friday 24th July, 9pm, BBC Two

Recently, we went round to our neighbours for a drink in their garden, to celebrate the fact that we were actually allowed to see other human beings. We don’t know them particularly well, and we had to navigate the usual delicate social issues that arise from time to time. We have very different politics, we have different cultural touchstones and different tastes. But we cheerily steered a course through all of this, and were getting on famously.

Then the subject of Miriam Margolyes came up.

They said that they had had to stop watching an early series of The Real Marigold Hotel because it contained “that dreadful Miriam Margolyes”.

There was a pause. Some birdsong. In the distance, a car started. I drank rather a large slug of wine, and we moved on.

Because, and I say this without hyperbole, Miriam Margolyes may be my actual favourite human being. Okay, maybe my immediate family comes first. (They don’t really, I’m just saying that in case my wife reads this, but as that only happens about twice a year, the odds are on my side). I love Miriam. Beneath her insouciant, gruff, grumpy exterior beats a genuinely open and compassionate heart, and she brings charm, humour and warmth to everything she does.

This new three-part series is a case in point. It sees her travelling round Australia, a country that granted her citizenship six years ago, in an effort to better understand a country that means so much to her. It’s pretty impressive, for a woman of 78, to up sticks and drive a motor home across the vast plains of Australia, but our Miriam is nothing if not ballsy. She is going in part, she explains, because “I live in a silly little bubble of people who think like me.” In truth, I’m not sure there’s anyone who thinks like you. More’s the pity.

Today, Miriam and her partner, a native Aussie, have a house in the New South Wales Highlands. But she first went to Australia forty years ago, and liked it so much, she bought a house there. She revisits her old neighbourhood of Bondi, cutting an incongruous figure on her mobility scooter amidst the toned muscles and tanned flesh of the beach dwellers.

She meets a Chinese immigrant who started her Australian life in a Chinatown market and is now a mutli-millionaire ‘property concierge’. She is living the Australian dream. But not everyone has been so fortunate. Pulling off the road for a night, Miriam meets a woman who has been forced to live off grid, in a caravan, by financial pressures. Apparently a growing number of Australia’s homeless population are older women, due to the financial disparity between the genders.

The Australian dream also seems to by bypassing the small rural town of Trundle. It’s currently in its third year of drought. Miriam meets a cattle-farming family, who have had to shoot some of their livestock, and are heavily in debt. The dad, Justin, had been through suicidal periods. They are a charming family who deserve better, and Miriam is moved by their plight.

Her journey takes her to Melbourne, where she meets Lydia Thorpe, the first Aboriginal woman elected to Victoria’s parliament. Her take on the Australian dream is a very different, and justifiably bitter, one. But most moving of all is Miriam’s encounter with a young Afghan shop-worker. When his parents were killed in Afghanistan, he travelled across the world to Australia, hitching rides and stowing away on ships, alone. He was 11, and he spoke no English. They both weep as he explains that he has no idea how old he is, or when his birthday is. But he says he has find happiness with his simple life in Australia. He is an inspiration, and Miriam mis clearly moved. “I shan’t forget this,” she says. It is one of the best TV moments of the year.

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The best… and the rest

Saturday 18th July

Queen Elizabeth II: In Her Own Words, 9:15pm, Channel 5: It’s Saturday night, which means it’s royal night on Channel 5, with another feature-length documentary about all things regal. This time, it’s a look at the long and distinguished reign of the Queen, viewed through the prism of her speeches and interviews.

Sunday 19th July

Trump in Tweets, 10pm, BBC Two: Documentary assessing the impact of Mr President’s drearily populist and inflammatory use of social media.

Tuesday 21st July

The Real EastEnders, 10pm, Channel 4: Documentary looking at the world as seen through the eyes of kids growing up on council estates in the Isle of Dogs. Not really much like EastEnders at all, then. Not a pub fight, car crash or house fire in sight.

Wednesday 22nd July

Paul O’Grady: For the Love of Dogs: What Happened Next, 8pm, ITV: The big-hearted scouse comedian catches up with some of the most memorable dogs he’s met over his eight years visiting the Battersea Cats and Dogs Home for the show.

Thursday 23rd July

Wonders of the Coastal Path, 8pm, ITV: Wales is the only country in the world with a designated path that stretches around its entire coastline. Good Morning Britain and Countryfile reporter Sean Fletcher goes on an epic journey along its 870 miles in this new eight-part series.

Madeleine McCann: The Hunt for the Prime Suspect, 9pm, ITV: Julie Etchingham investigates the new German suspect in the infamous case, and looks at the evidence gathered against him.

Friday 24th July

It Pays to Behave, 8pm, Channel 4: Rylan Clark-Neal presents a family gameshow with a twist. Via a series of bespoke gameshow rounds, parents win cash - or don't - depending on how well they parent during each round.

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