TV review: Cunk on Britain, BBC Two (4 stars)

Diane Morgan as Philomena Cunk in Cunk on Britain, BBC Two

Diane Morgan as Philomena Cunk / credit: BBC Pictures

A curiously amusing history lesson from a made-up presenter

Like his previous comedy collaborator Chris Morris, Charlie Brooker loves a wonderfully silly made-up name. So, in the spirit of The Day Today's finance correspondent Collaterlie Sisters and terrible reporter Peter O'Hanraha-hanrahan comes Philomena Cunk, now given her own series of half-hour history slices after being a roving reporter on Brooker's Weekly Wipe.

Like Andrew Marr (if the Scottish intellectual was a slightly ditzy millennial) Cunk is looking back in the rear-view mirror of time at 'a thing called history'. In the first couple of episodes of Cunk on Britain, she pores over the likes of Henry VIII, Elizabeth I ('the vegan queen'), and Cromwell, while espousing a slightly odd obsession for the 1980s painter and decorator sitcom Brush Strokes.

Coming over like a malapropist's wet dream, Cunk mispronounces roughly one word per minute and offers unique observations (such as the 'Baywatch' Tapestry reminding her of a Game of Thrones finale written by an eight-year-old boy) and asks daft questions of experts such as British History boffin Professor Ronald Hutton, Medieval Lit guru Laura Ashe, and even telly economist Robert Peston. Unlike the best work of Ali G or the Brass Eye interrogations of Chris Morris, these encounters are wholly staged and tightly scripted unscripted (see comment below from Laura Ashe herself) with the interviewee in on the joke but trying to act as though they're not.

Though these sit-down chats feel like a necessary complement to Cunk's wanderings when she's either shouting at helicopters or ambling around to her own voiceover, it's the only element that feels a little lumpen. But Cunk (stand-up and sketch show comic Diane Morgan) is still an amusing presence and, against most of the odds, actually imparts some interesting historical points within the childish naivety and inappropriate non-sequiturs.

Episodes watched: two of five

Cunk on Britain starts on BBC Two, Tue 3 Apr.

Comments

1. laura ashe28 Mar 2018, 1:09pm

The interview wasn't scripted at all and it was extremely nerve-wracking, I can assure you. (I'm also nervous just writing this since I haven't seen it yet myself.) Diane Morgan is brilliant; for the hapless academic it's a case of hoping laughs outweigh try-hard humiliation...

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2. Scott Henderson28 Mar 2018, 2:38pm

Thanks for the clarification, Laura, very cool to hear. We've updated the copy.

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