Joanna Lumley’s three part series charts her journey through China, Mongolia and Russia on the Trans-Siberian Express. The adventure spans 6,400 miles and takes her to places as varied as 5th century Buddhist temples, Mongolian goldmines and icy Siberian deserts. Her final destination is Moscow – a place Lumley hasn’t visited since her modelling days during the Cold War.
Lumley has already visited some of the places and indeed lived in some of the places in the series and her insight on how the environment has changed is genuinely interesting. Her father was stationed with the Ghurka regiment in Hong Kong when she was four years old and upon returning to her family home decades later she discovers that, in her words, the city has ‘altered its whole nature’.
The highlights of the first episode include the properly bizarre Chinese restaurant with entertainers similar to Butlin’s redcoats (if the red stood for Communism) and Lumley’s car ride with a lady I imagine is basically a Real Housewife of Beijing, who constantly takes selfies whilst driving as Joanna politely and repeatedly asks her to stop. Most interesting is the bizarre paradox of China’s obsession with consumerism and designer brands existing alongside its Communist ideals. As Lumley says, ‘you can buy a Prada handbag but you aren’t allowed to access Google or Youtube’. Similarly in Russia, she finds the best shops to be located on Karl Marx Street. Much of the show is entertaining fluff but Lumley does take time to mention, though not quite delve into, Tibet and Tiananmen Square amongst other politically charged areas.
Lumley is an incredibly cosy presenter, presenting a mixture of historical background and anecdotal information. The series presents fascinating juxtapositions of landscape – from the soaring skyscrapers lit up like the Aurora Borealis and the remote nomadic farmlands. The themes of warring ideologies and tradition vs modernity reoccur throughout the series and across the countries she visits. This is echoed by Lumley’s journey – retracing old steps and exploring new locations. When describing an old photograph of herself, the always eloquent Lumley makes the pleasantly philosophical remark: ‘you never lose who you were. You just grow round [yourself] like a tree’. Similarly, this is repeatedly proved by the landscapes she visits.
Joanna Lumley’s Trans-Siberian Adventure is a worthwhile watch and Lumley, herself, is a very pleasing tour guide. Ultimately, it’s an entertaining, easy-going holiday to some of the most mysterious cultures on earth with a kindly and knowledgeable travel companion.