Frankie Boyle opts for realism as opposed to idealism in latest travel documentary

Peter O'Neill

In “Frankie Boyle’s Tour of Scotland”, we get one of the most self-aware travel documentaries ever.

At the beginning of the first episode, Boyle narrates that a comedian doing a travel show is considered a graveyard in the comedy world.

Now aged 47, and more explicitly left-wing than ever having endorsed Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party in the last British general election, he attempts to give different insights into Scotland than those usually seen in the run-of-the-mill tourism shows.

In his first visit, Boyle seeks out a man living in isolation in the middle of a forest. He lives by letting out a caravan placed up a tree on Airbnb. Boyle, in one of his humorous anecdotes in the show, says that although appreciating the isolation, that young couples that usually stay in the caravan would have to have the most careful sex ever so as not to fall out of the tree.

Some of the more interesting parts of this episode were when it gets political. Boyle explores how most land in Scotland cannot be inherited and is in fact usually owned by English lords and the very wealthy. This included for a long time, the infamous paedophile Jimmy Saville.

The sites Saville owned were where the Glencoe massacre happened, a point which Boyle makes clear was carried out by British soldiers. At a time when the topic of Scottish independence is gaining traction after Brexit, it’s pretty clear where Boyle stands on the matter.

“An example of what could happen if you tried to pacify the Highlands before heroin,” he delivers in his usual sardonic fashion.

Other political items discussed but not explicitly are the ideas of a monarchy. When visiting a former mine on the inside of a mountain, he notes that the Queen has a great life, opening historical sites where countless people died in her country due to the working conditions.

You get the sense that he thrives for a more ordinary life like the hermit he met earlier, or in the commune that he also visits and takes part in briefly. However, as Boyle notes when pondering life on a ferry, he’d be dead in a week due to the lack of shops.

In one of the best moments of the first episode, Boyle notes that cliched pieces would usually state that Scotland is a land of contrasts. He cleverly then says that he’s going to turn around and then play music for dramatic effect.

The camera and soundtrack follow his dictation, and it works perfectly.

It’s interesting to see Boyle in this context compared to his successful yet controversial emergence on “Mock the Week” in the mid-2000s. He seems more mellow but also thanks to the documentary format, able to explore deeper ideas than a one-liner on a panel show.

One of the best parts of his comedy is his honesty, sense of rights and wrong in terms of those in power, and how he delivers it. Instead of following the likes of Ricky Gervais in bemoaning the supposed idea that comedy can’t be interesting anymore due to those in the left-wing, Boyle instead embraces the left with open arms and provides a new insightful glimpse into his worldview.

Peter O’Neill

Image Credit: BBCTwo