The Booze Cruise Collection Review
ITV has had a rum old time of late. Celebrity Wrestling, I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here, (Celebrity) Love Island, Celebrity X Factor...you get the idea and why ITV might have been struggling in the ratings recently. Where once it competed with the BBC for major programming and could have filled its schedules with current affairs, dramas and comedies, its controllers now prefer to sink into the mire of cheap satellite programming and look towards blaming their rivals for their populist streaks. The recently departed Charles Allen may have accused Channel 4 of stealing his audiences but David Liddiment did much the same in his time with the BBC. Neither seemed to realise that if only ITV made better television, those audiences may not have switched over quite so readily.
So it's worth celebrating when they do something right, something that shows the channel remembers how it once had a populist touch that effortlessly managed to be entertaining, grown-up, funny and touching. Over the last couple of years, three Sunday night comedy-dramas have done all that on ITV, the Booze Cruise trilogy. Actually, calling it a trilogy does rather overstate its importance as there's very little actual drama in them. There's never the feeling, for example, that everyone concerned won’t be cosily sitting in their front room again by the time the credits roll - an odd reflection of the viewers in the cast by that reckoning - but there are minor crises to be dealt with within the brisk ninety-minutes running times of the three episodes. Be that a disagreement over who sits in the front of the car, the losing of a set of car keys or the place-settings for an evening meal, the drama won’t ever quicken one’s heartbeat but does exactly what it’s called upon to do, being the offer of a skeleton with which to flesh out with comedy.
The first film in the set, and certainly the best one, also the series that gave the series its name. Starring Mark Benton, who, from a slow start in Eureka Street and Nature Boy, is rarely off our screens, and Martin Clunes, The Booze Cruise is a story about a cross-channel trip to buy up enough wine, beer and spirits to fill a trailer and to make it back that same weekend, enjoying a little of France but clearly, given the time constraints, not very much. Benton does what he does best, his Dave being an uncomplicated soul who’s simply after some cheap booze, a good time and a quiet life. Rob (Neil Pearson), despite not wanting very much more than Mark, is involved in an affair that his wife knows about whilst Clive, in a deliberately snooty turn from Clunes, is a businessman fretting over his daughter’s marriage as well as the imminent failure of his business. These three are joined by Maurice (Brian Murphy), an elderly neighbour who’s conservative manner clashes with the more liberal Rob, and Daniel (Ben Whishaw), Clive’s future son-in-law.
In the manner of all soap operas - Brookside was always particularly awful in this respect - there’s a certain amount of disbelief in seeing these five together, particularly when Daniel has no ticket for the journey and must be smuggled onto the cross-channel ferry in Dave’s trailer. But it’s this clash of personalities that is the basis for The Booze Cruise’s comedy, with Rob writing ‘TIT’ on Maurice’s head in sun cream as he lazes on the deck of the ferry and Maurice attempting to bring an wartime weapon back into England illegally - he simply carries it on his lap, leaving a lot of shocked-looking customs officers behind him as he passes. Meanwhile the drama is the sort of thing that sees Rob constantly bickering with Maurice regarding the height of his leylandii and Daniel finding out that he doesn’t really love Clive’s daughter Chloe (Louise Callaghan) when he runs over and falls for Juliette (Elsa Kikoïne). With Clive worrying that he doesn’t have roaming on his mobile phone as he tries to stay in touch with his business’ accountants and lawyers, he’s oblivious to the arrival of the bailiffs at his family home as well as his daughter finding out that maybe she doesn’t love Daniel either. As all this goes on and as the men return to England barely on speaking terms and with their trailer full of alcohol alight, their wives chop down the leylandii, wolf whistle at workmen and get drunk.
But with some very sharp writing around the soufflé-light story, The Booze Cruise works a treat. It’s genuinely funny, affable and very easy going with a look that suggests ITV put rather more money its way than they usually would for a 90-minute comedy-drama. Of course, it isn’t much of a mental challenge - the story doesn’t so much twist and turn as spell out its eventual conclusion and lazily wander towards it - but for a piece of Sunday night entertainment before the early mornings and late evenings of the week ahead, it was almost perfectly pitched. Anyone who has ever rounded off their recent weekends with The Royal, The Chase or Last Of The Summer Wine might well believe that The Booze Cruise was made for them alone.
It wasn’t at all surprising that ITV followed up The Booze Cruise with two more films, both of which feature largely the same cast and the same idea of taking them away from their suburban homes. In The Booze Cruise II, Dave took most of the characters on a treasure hunt in his car - Maurice, his wife and his mother-in-law opted to go it alone in a camper van - whilst in The Booze Cruise III, they went to Yorkshire to scatter the ashes of Maurice’s mother-in-law over the Moors. Neither of these are as good as the first in the series but still offer much entertainment, with the place of Clive being taken by the rather arrogant businessman Marcus Foster (Ian Richardson), who’s driven to meet Dave in his Jaguar by his chauffeur and who hopes to take advantage of Dave’s hospitality by dangling the offer of work for Dave’s building firm in front of him whilst knowing the work is going somewhere else. Unfortunately, a prostitute, a Polaroid and Maurice’s wife, who’s along for the trip this time, have something to say about that. Once again, it’s hard to ever imagine Marcus volunteering to spend any time in such a confined space as a car with the rest of the cast but surrounded by an enthusiastic bunch of treasure hunters, who can’t seem to see that the grumbling Booze Cruisers are dragging a wealth of personal crises around with them, the script draws out the tension as much as it can as well as offering plenty of opportunities to humiliate the cast.
The Booze Cruise III was a fine way for the series to end, with Rob, his ex-wife and girlfriend in Dave’s car, Maurice and his wife along for the ride and with a mysterious suitcase that Marcus has asked Dave to deliver to his brother-in-law. With the car breaking down, an urn full of ashes to look after and the cast stumbling onto an illegal cannabis plantation, there are as many richly comedic moments as offered in both of the earlier films. Of course, Maurice ends up with a bag full of cannabis to smoke in his pipe and spends a good portion of the film both ravenously hungry and very, very happy. Of course, the ashes are spilled at various points. Of course, there is much bickering between Rob’s ex-wife and girlfriend before he finally learns that it’s his wife that he really love and of course no one believes Marcus is up to much good but given that the first film in the set was never terribly original, one needn’t have any hopes that the third film will.
With much more in the way of drama - Dave and Cath are trying for a baby in the third film without any success - but with much less reason for the cast to come together, the third film seemed like a good point at which to draw the series to a close, which would appear to be marked by this DVD release. However, with ITV bringing Cracker back in the coming week and with talk of the revival of even more popular shows that were thought retired to bolster their autumn and winter schedules, we may not have seen the last of The Booze Cruise.
Presented anamorphically in 1.78:1 and with a DD2.0 Surround audio track, these look and sound much the same as they did when they were originally broadcast on television. Of course, with an improved bitrate over what they would have been allocated on Sky Digital or Freeview, they also look and sound much better with less obvious artefacting of the picture and with less break-up of the soundtrack, something that the ITV signal on Sky tends to suffer from more than most. However, they never look like anything more than made-for-television features and, although perfectly decent, the DVD presentations do tend to reflect this. Unfortunately, The Booze Cruise III does suffer from a fading in and out of the audio track, which is most noticeable early in the film, particularly when Marcus calls on Rob and Dave in the pub to drop off a gift for his brother-in-law.
There are no extras on this release of The Booze Cruise DVD Collection.
The Booze Cruise Collection will make someone a fine Christmas present, with its three tales of fun in the sunshine being something of a tonic through the long winter evenings that are approaching. One doubts if they’ll be fondly remembered by a significant number of people many years from now but I suspect there will be many who’ll happily stumble on a repeat of these films on a satellite channel or who’ll remember them being shown and wonder if you can still get them on DVD. It may then be best to pick them up now and enjoy these very slight but very enjoyable films in this decent set.