TV Review: The Mekong River With Sue Perkins

The Mekong River With Sue Perkins - Header

Sue Perkins, a boat, and the only person to speak English? A shy Tibetan Nun! It seems an unlikely source of entertaining Sunday night television but that’s exactly what this 4 part series turned out to be. Entertaining yet immensely thought provoking at the same time.

Travelling the Mekong River in South East Asia, Perkins took us on a journey upstream to show firstly how people rely on the river to live, prosper and dream and secondly, to open our narrow western eyes to the plight of a region developing at fractional rates that will potentially lead to its ultimate downfall.

Sue Perkins - The Mekong River

The first thing that really strikes you is Perkins though. She brings her usual casual, happy-go-lucky presenting style that has helped make The Great British Bake Off such a hit, and this feels like an extension of the “post bake” history lessons that interweave with soggy bottoms and Paul Hollywood’s beard. And that’s OK for the majority of the time, we’re used to it, so when she’s essentially presenting to camera, to us, we accept it, but there are odd occasions, when a flippant remark, or harmless joke is aimed on screen and fails to land with her host audience, it strangely makes you feel a little uneasy. There is a real sense on occasions, but unintentional I’m sure, that she is slightly “taking the Michael” out of the locals, that she subconsciously, is implying she’s the next rung up the ladder.

And yet, for those slightly cringe worthy moments thankfully lost in translation, there are far, far more moment of real clarity and bliss. The moments, when you get to see a completely different side to Perkins. A side hidden from the bright lights Western society. It’s those moments where people not materialistic objects, truly remind you what matters in life and you can see just how physically and emotional moved by them she is. It’s the old clich√© that actions speak louder than words and this series will remind you of that beautifully.

Sue Perkins - The Mekong River Boat

You also get a view of just how intelligent Perkins really is. For all the silly remarks, and playful jokes, her use of language, her view on the world and ability to explain with real precision the reasons for, against and why events and actions play out as they do is subtly breathtaking.

South East Asia is a part of the world that appeals greatly to me, I have lots of friends who seem to have moved out there over the past few years, and so it’s very much at the top of my “travel list” and so moving away from Perkins and on to the region itself, I found the story of the people, and the growth of the respective countries fascinating. Seeing how different people used and relied on the river in such diverse ways, and how sadly insular and shrunken people’s thoughts were relating to the river and how it should and could be used for personal gain.

To expand on the second point: it was very noticeable that as we were taken upstream, the river begins: big, wide and all providing. People rely on it as a primary power. It’s their way of life. They need it for sustenance, income and for want of a better word, shelter. It is their entire support network and they are very much tuned and governed to its idiosyncrasies and changes. Then as we move further and further up stream, and the waters narrow and it regresses in age, it was amazing, but unsurprising how people’s reliance on it became less and less.

The Mekong River Dam - Laos

As you travel North, as you travel closer to larger “westernised” societies, as you essentially get closer to China, the Mekong River becomes more of a tool and less of an provider. It was fascinating but horrendously sad, but it essentially boiled down to the fact that as the populations with access to the river have access to more money, the less they are prepared to use the river as a resource and more as a commodity to exploit. Exploitation without thought for further consequences.

This documentary has really got under my skin and really made me want to go see the Mekong, spend some time in South East Asia and retrace her steps, her trip. From the people she met along the way, to the places she visited, once again British TV has given us a brief glimpse into a part of the world that not only hold a natural beauty in appearance, but also a natural beauty in affection to ours. My worry though, is that like a lot of people, and like Perkins warns, it’s very easy to romanticise this part of the world and lose sight of the ultimate truth it holds.

Posted on by 5WC in Television First Edition

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