At a party this week I met a man who described running competitive marathons in the great European capitals, Madrid, Rome, London, and for pleasure in some of the most scenic stretches of Great Britain.
“A place I have never run, but want to see more than any other is Cornwall,” he said.
He gave me his card, and I am going to send him — on loan only, mind you — the wonderful two-disc Cornwall, with Caroline Quentin, an enchantingly shot journey from Athena Programs, certain to satisfy my new friend until he can breathe the Cornish sea air himself. Quentin, the actress and two-time British Comedy Award winner, has family roots in the county, a perfect guide who leads us with just the right mix of familiarity and fresh delight from the iconic St. Michael’s Mount with its Pirate Day to restaurant kitchens busy feeding summer tourists.
Two impressions persist from spending time with Cornwall: the place is one of stunning beauty — there is no other way to say it — and its charming, self-reliant residents know it, their pride of place a characteristic that attracts the traveler. A chef and father whom Quentin comes to know well moved there only twenty years ago, while a gentleman whose home reminds the viewer of Downton Abbey counts his family’s residence to 1535. What the two have in common is they say that to live anywhere else, anywhere far from the great cliffs and small Cornish communities, is unthinkable. In towns and on beaches our guide introduces us to other locals who share the telling affection for their own place, from young pub-goers to an eighty-eight year old belly-board champion (a woman) who still competes.
“I’m not English, I’m Cornish,” says a young woman with a flower in her hair.
Despite its two and a half hour running time — it can feel long — amid scenes of regattas and flower competitions and the process of renting a dream home, the viewer who wants to know more about where the distinctive Cornwall character comes from might be disappointed.
Quentin makes passing reference to Celtic missionaries and the once-dominant tin industry, but history itself is not a strong point of the film. Its makers might argue the Prayer Book Rebellion (16th century), an 18th century tsunami, and rebellious politics that resulted in the virtual death of the Cornish language belong somewhere else. Bonus features do include a 12-page guide with articles on history and language, questions for discussion. Cornwall is clearly an invitation to tourism — nothing wrong with that! — including featured commercial enterprises; however it is billed as a “documentary,” inviting other expectations. My personal pique: No true sense of Cornwall as literary inspiration for the likes of Virginia Woolf, Daphne DuMaurier, Poet Laureate John Betjeman and other greats.
As a travel feature, Cornwall has moments of drama unusual in the genre, a tribute to the filmmakers. Will the local singer overcome stage fright in her first public appearance? Will a teenage sailor hold up the family pride of ten generations of participants as she pushes off in the annual the Red Wing Championship?
Like the marathon runner, I have not yet traveled in Cornwall. This film makes me want to go.
Disclosure: A free copy of this DVD was given to a volunteer with the expectation that they would write a fair and honest review of it.