Little England Review: More ‘Ennui’ Than ‘Je Ne Sais Quoi’

LITTLE ENGLAND: Monday 12th September, ITV1, 8pm

If you’ve ever dreamed about quitting the rat race to start a new life speaking in broken French, eating fish ‘n’ chips and socialising with other ex-pats in the south-west of France then ITV’s latest semi-reality show could be of great interest to you. This new series follows the lives of a handful of the 20,000 Brits who have “upped sticksâ€? and moved to the Dordoigne in the hopes of finding a better quality of life and experiencing some of the “je ne sais quoiâ€? of French culture.

What the programme revealed, however, is that living in France does not have to intrude upon leading a British lifestyle. A van load of bacon butties, bingo nights, cricket clubs and English butchers, all set up by entrepreneurial expats, are on hand to keep a sense of Britishness alive and kicking as you struggle on in the sunshine.

In this first episode, we are introduced to chateau managers and wedding planners, Monica and Nick, who positively glow with love for their new life in 17th century dream-home, Chateau Pitray. After watching the pair take a serene stroll around their plush pad and its impressive grounds, viewers were regaled with the joys of the couple’s new lifestyle and reminded of their own dismal commute on the M25. Life at the chateau looks nothing short of idyllic.

But, unfortunately, the serene strolling also reflected the painful pace of the programmes itself. The second half is taken up, almost entirely, with minute-by-minute coverage of a wedding that takes place at the Chateau Pitray. Despite feeling very pleased for the happy French couple (who had been together 33 years without getting wed – would you believe!) I did not feel any more familiar with the prospect of life in France than I would if I’d donned a beret and ate a snail.

Somerset born Farmer Hicks, who now runs a British butchers from his 70 acre farm in the heart of the French countryside, almost single-handedly made the programme worth its 8pm slot though. His own brand of brash wisdom, “you are only as good as your last sausageâ€?, made him by far the most watchable and entertaining character compared to the likes of utterly forgettable fish and chip van owners etc etc.

However, with the promise that upcoming episodes will follow the Hicks family as they “as they launch with gusto into the pie marketâ€?, viewing may not be quite as riveting as one might hope.

To be fair, I have always fancied myself as a bit of a Francophile and it was interesting to hear snippets about the reality of life in la France. It was also interesting to hear that £110,000 could get a Bergerac-bound Brit a three bedroom house with plenty of land to spare. But this is not really anything that Google couldn’t tell you.

With its sluggish pace and a soundtrack stolen from ITV’s lift, this first episode left me feeling none the wiser about life across the channel.