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Miriam and Alan: Lost in Scotland review – Margolyes is as earthy, frisky and fruity as ever

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I’m not at all sure what Channel 4 was thinking of with Miriam and Alan: Lost in Scotland. The premise is promising enough. As the programme notes say, “Hollywood actors Miriam Margolyes and Alan Cumming roll back the decades and return to their Scottish roots. Part rediscovery, part revelation and always a total riot.” Quite so, but I didn’t expect Margolyes to be treated quite as much as, well, the butt of so much of the humour. It seems no way to treat a minor national treasure.

The three-part travelogue takes the pair in a camper van across the lovely, rugged landscapes of Scotland in search of memories and wonders. That’s all fine, obviously, but it’s unclear why Channel 4 was so intent on showing so many shots of Margolyes’s bottom. The lowpoint is when the veteran and award-winning actor is almost caught on film – and at stool – by a camera placed for some diabolical purpose in the camper van’s on-board toilet cubicle. Mercifully, she spots the bogcam before it’s too late, and, yes, she nearly loses her s***. It is testament to Margolyes’s deep sense of duty that she (presumably) cleared the near-historic moment for broadcast.

That, though, was all we saw of the pair actually cohabiting in the camper van, and I do wonder whether their respective agents insisted on them being booked into appropriately comfortable boutique hotels, en-suite and minibar included, as they roamed around Sturgeonland. Margolyes and Cumming did hit it off fairly well, and there was a nice sequence when they turned up to a tartan mill and had a special joint design run up for them, a striking blue, yellow and purple plaid named “Aliam”.

Margolyes is like an agony aunt to Cumming as they share their life experiences. I also found myself quite touched, though not as much as he was, by the notion that Cumming might be related illegitimately to Scottish nobility (he isn’t), and the sad, dark tales of the cruelty in the woodshed he suffered at the hands of his father, who thought he might not have been his son (he was).

And Margoyles was as earthy, frisky and fruity as any octogenarian in a wheelchair has any right to be (which is to say a perfect right). She’s got a book out, full of bitchy anecdotes, in case you’d not noticed, and she’s a fine raconteur, treating the cab of the camper van as if it were the stage of the Old Vic. One of the few absolute lol moments in this show is when she recalls her knickers elastic snapping just as she clambered into the car to take her driving test, “the soft rustle of silk sliding down my leg” as her undergarment fell off.

So they have their moments, our travellers, but, even so, Miriam and Alan: Lost in Scotland does really seem like a pairing slightly the wrong side of random, like two slightly asymmetric cheeks of the same arse, as I believe they say in Scotland.

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