I’ve never been to Khartoum, but I love cartoons.
For centuries, finding the source of the Nile River seemed an impossible task. The largest river in the world, the Nile runs through northern Egypt for more than 4,000 miles. Following it all the way to the end was a treacherous task for old-timey explorers, and remains a long, daunting journey today. Actress Joanna Lumley (Absolutely Fabulous) loves to travel, so now she is going the distance, from one end of the Nile to the other, with cameras following her along the way.
People gave me some strange looks when I said I was watching this, but honestly, I’m here for the Nile more than for Lumley. This four-part series takes through five countries and a variety of cities and communities based on the Nile. It begins in Egypt, of course, with a side trip to the famous pyramids. Here, Lumley enjoys private train cars and luxurious river cruises. From there, travels further south take Lumley to historical sites in Khartoum, the surprising beauty of Ethiopia, and finally to the massive Lake Victoria in Uganda and then deep into the untamed wilderness in Rwanda in hopes of finding the source.
Knowing she’s a staunch advocate for human rights and animal welfare, I worried Joanna Lumley’s Nile would be nothing but preaching to me. Fortunately, that’s not the case. This one’s all about celebrating Africa, not politicizing it. There are some references to scarcity of food, poor economic situations, and endangered animals, but Lumley is accepting and open-minded to everyone she meets throughout. There are a few times when she tries some comedy shtick, such as not knowing what to make of some local food or not knowing how to unfold the bed in her train car, but pushing for laughs feels inappropriate and it’s kept to a minimum.
The educational bits are the show at its most interesting. Ethiopia was especially fascinating, a different look at the country than we usually get from the media. It has a culture and history all its own, and its mountains offer some of the show’s most scenic vistas. Throughout Joanna Lumley’s Nile, we’re treated to sights beyond the usual same shots of the pyramids. Ancient cave paintings, busy street markets, sacred religious sites, and more all get moments in the spotlight. It’s exciting in that you never know where the Nile will take you next.
Lumley does a decent job as host. She’s knowledgeable on the many locales she visits, and doesn’t have much problem navigating some of the harsher terrain. She can be repetitive, though, as so many of her reactions come when she breathlessly says, “Extraordinary.” Like most documentaries, I often wonder just how much we’re not seeing. There are a few sweeping crane shots, sometimes with Lumley in camera, which has me wondering just how huge of a crew is following her around.
The standard def 1.85:1 image and Dolby 2.0 Stereo aduio on this two-disc set are solid, with a lot of fine detail and color bringing the vast outdoors of Africa to life. For extras, there is a text-based look at the countries visited during the show. Even better, though, is the booklet, which contains an essay on the history of exploring the Nile, and an interview with Cam McLeay, the explorer who discovered the true source of the Nile in 2006.
Anyone with a love of travel and an interest in Africa would do well to give Joanna Lumley’s The Nile a try.