Love in the Countryside, review – rural heartache turned into a spectator sport
Earlier this year, the Farm Safety Foundation reported that the suicide rate among UK farm workers is running at more than one a week.
Tactfully, this was not mentioned in Love in the Countryside (BBC Two), a cheerful new matchmaking experiment that hopes to address the loneliness that is a major factor in that statistic.
Thus eight rural workers had their dating profiles posted on the BBC website. The pick of the applicants were summoned to a country house hotel for that most uncomfortable of rituals: speed-dating on camera. For those who work long solitary hours among animals, using TV as Tinder may well be a high-risk last resort.
Take Christina, who, following the death of her father, runs a beef and sheep farm in Dumfriesshire on her own. The responses to her profile were disappointingly scant, so the production somehow drummed up more applicants . From her reaction to each encounter, it was clear that there was a lot riding on this.
While the show means well, I have a lingering anxiety that it treats heartache as a spectator sport. It wasn’t just the farmers exposing themselves to hurt. Ed, a young dairy farmer from Lancashire, complimented two women on their looks, but one woman missed out and the camera cruelly zoomed in for a reaction shot.
Richard, a hearty Yorkshire dairy farmer in his fifties, attracted a long queue of single middle-aged women, which told its own story.
Everyone seemed nice but nervous. Only one or two might be suspected of treating this as a game-for-a-laugh audition for a career on television.
Step forward, Francesca from Leeds, whose knowledge of farm life was gleaned from watching a single episode of Housewives of Orange County.
As presenter, Sara Cox is a down-to-earth Cupid (“Am I buying a hat any time soon?” she asked Christina). The format, with a long parade of awkward hello hugs and shy cheek kisses, feels cumbersome.
Next week, when the selected dates head back to the farm to muck in, there will be more to watch, but Love in the Countryside may struggle to shed the aura of artifice.
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