Isn't that Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous? Yes, it is. Joannna Lumley has calmed down her signature beehive and put aside the endless glasses of bubbly and taken on the role of travel guide for two very watchable documentaries from Athena, Joanna Lumley's Nile and Joanna Lumley's Greek Odyssey. Both two-disc DVD sets feature four episodes and Lumley's delightful observations on the local sights and history. In Joanna Lumley's Nile the host lays out her plan of attack, to travel the entire length of the north-flowing Nile, considered the longest river in the world, with a length of 4,132 miles (6,650 km). Like most travelers, she intends to take the trip "backwards," starting in Egypt, where the river's mouth spills into the Mediterranean, and ending at its source, at the Rwanda-Tanzania border.
Joanna Lumley with friend
When most people think of the Nile, Ancient Egypt comes to mind, and Lumley definitely does delve into its history and travel to some of its most popular monuments, like the Great Pyramids of Giza, which once upon a time were located much closer to the great river. The sprawl of modern Cairo has since pushed the pyramids and river farther from each other. To travel the entire length of the river by boat would take far too long, and become even dangerous at times, as there are many rapids and treacherous rock formations along the route. The resourceful Lumley and her crew and guides travel by camel, train, plane, car, and boat to complete the journey.
Lumley has an instant rapport with just about everyone she meets, and her chatty, informative style may remind one more of an eccentric aunt than a glamorous actress shooting a television series. When one of the locals she meets along the tour greets her with "James Bond, James Bond!" it takes both Lumley and the audience by momentary surprise as she is reminded of her days as a Bond Girl in the 1969 film On Her Majesty's Secret Service.
As she skirts the river, she and viewers are treated to some interesting stops along the way, including a beautiful monastery in Ethiopia, where she is happy to learn that the patron saint of Ethiopia is the same as in her home of England, St. George, offering an opportunity later that afternoon as she once again gets on her way to toast the country and the saint with a St. George's beer, "I'm rather good at drinking beer on boats." In Rwanda she meets some lovely aspiring fashion models, and eats cassava, a local food staple, which temporarily renders the gregarious actress speechless (it is so dry).
When Lumley finally reaches the source of the Nile she is visibly moved, and viewers may regret that their journey and hers has come to an end. But not to worry, Lumley is on the move again, in Joanna Lumley's Greek Odyssey. This trip seems a bit more personal, as Lumley has traveled to Greece many times before, since her first visit at the age of 20, and has a real love and rapport with the country. Once again she tours some of the most-visited and familiar sites, like the Acropolis in Athens, the Oracle at Delphi, the almost inaccessible monasteries of Meteora, and even climbs a bit of Mount Olympus, but there are always surprises in store. Some of the more offbeat destinations include the fabled the Gates of Hades, the site of a former leper colony, and a remote village where the remaining inhabitants speak in their own strange language of whistles.
Both sets have bonus features. Joanna Lumley's Nile comes with a 16-page viewer’s guide with a map, which can prove very helpful to orient oneself as she travels the length of the river through Africa. The discs also include profiles of each country that is visited along the route (Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Rwanda), and a biography of Lumley. Joanna Lumley's Greek Odyssey comes with a 12-page viewer’s guide with a map, and the discs include a Greek history timeline, as well as articles on the Nine Muses and the poet Lord Byron. Both series are shot in widescreen, with an aspect ratio of 1.77:1 and a total approximate running time of 184 minutes. SDH Subtitles are available.
Equally at home in drama or comedy, Lumley is quite the successful actress, but she seems to have found a new calling in these travel programs. Always engaging and willing to learn something new about the people and their customs, Lumley has proved to be a witty and entertaining host. Happily she has embarked on the road again, in Joanna Lumley’s Ark, a journey that will take her across three continents, in search of Noah's Ark. Where will she go next?