Francesco’s Italy: Top to Toe
Elizabeth-Anne Grummitt fails to be charmed by the silver-haired one’s travelogue…
and did I mention sexy? | coincidence, or lack of imagination? | style over substance
And did I mention sexy?
If one was to be so rude as to attempt to cut Count Francesco de Mosto in half one would find ‘sexy Italian’ written right through him, like a stick of Blackpool rock (a confection equally sugary and difficult to digest). Attractive and charming, as of course all Europeans are, de Mosto was last seen showing us around his native Venice. This year he has helped us to discover the entire of Italy, Top to Toe, in his latest show, currently running on BBC2. (Catch the next episode on Sunday.) And blimey, but the channel is making sure they get their money’s worth out of him. From the trailer that cheekily winked ‘and his country’s not bad either’ to the current selection from the message board on the show’s site (‘Have to say he did make my heart beat a little faster – it’s the voice I think’) it’s clear that Italy itself is a sideshow to the main attraction.
Here’s Francesco with his adorable children. Francesco meeting up with ‘a good friend of my mother in law’ who just happens to be Maggie Smith. Francesco with his sexy car driving through the sexy hills of sexy Tuscany. Francesco repeatedly saying ‘ow do you say’ in his sexy Italian accent. You know ow you say it for God’s sake you clearly wrote this speech in advance! Sorry, I may have snapped somewhere around the Maggie Smith mark. There was something about Italy in there as well, but I couldn’t make it out over the stupid jazzy music that accompanied everything. Mack the Knife and the like may be appropriate for sexy car driving but for Masaccio’s Expulsion from Paradise?
Coincidence, or lack of imagination?
All this is probably not de Mosto’s fault. I loved his Venice documentary which was informative as well as enjoyable and unquestionably benefited from the fact it was fronted by someone who obviously had a passion for the subject, and perhaps crucially, had not been seen on our screens before. De Mosto is unquestionably charismatic, and also clearly intelligent, (and yes, ok, really rather attractive) but in Top to Toe he is swamped by a format that was too obviously falling over itself to be charming and in this context his manner seems contrived and irritating. There’s another problem behind the programme as well. Top to Toe appeared to be blatantly ripping off another, lesser seen travelogue, fronted by someone who has the disadvantage of not really being a sexy anything.
Brian Sewell’s Grand Tour shown earlier this year on Channel 5 covered exactly the same ground that Francesco is currently swanning around on. The similarities extend further than the fact that there is inevitably going to be some overlap between any two programmes on Italy. Grand Tour also featured the presenter driving around in a (slightly less sexy) car accompanied by a cheerful jazzy soundtrack. It also featured Sewell mixing with “real people” and offering anecdotes rather than just standing about talking about a work of art, Tim Marlowe style. Even the titles remind me of each other. Perhaps it’s all a coincidence. Or perhaps the producers of Top to Toe hoped that no one watches Channel 5. Unfortunately for them, this reviewer does, frequently, and Top to Toe is much the poorer for the comparison with Sewell’s programme. While in Grand Tour the car driving was an opportunity for Sewell to enlighten us on some obscure fact of Italian history or reminisce about his first tour around Italy as a student, in Top to Toe it’s just an excuse to see Francesco’s hair get blown about prettily.
Style over substance
What is more Sewell spoke about the country and its art far more informatively than de Mosto is allowed to do. During the aforementioned visit to Masaccio’s fresco, as well as having to endure the inappropriate soundtrack (overused excessively here in contrast to Grand Tour) we are told neither the title or painter of the work, in fact nothing at all about it whatsoever. The occasion is instead used for de Mosto to tell Maggie Smith off for reading from her guidebook and thus spoiling the moment. (Because she is English and therefore rubbish at this sort of thing.) All very well, and goodness knows I have had to fight back the temptation to say similar things to more than one fellow tourist in my time but it’s rather pointless when the audience does not get a chance to contemplate the work themselves. Top to Toe’s approach feels rushed throughout, and it is the art that suffers most.
It was, I felt, a great accomplishment of Grand Tour (especially given Sewell’s love-it-or-hate-it persona) that I felt I was really getting to know about the presenter and his feelings for the country during my journey through Italy. In contrast by the end of episode two of Top to Toe I wanted to make de Mosto eat his damn sweater. (I don’t care if the housewives like it!) For a break-neck look at Italy with some charming if shallow glimpses of modern Italian life (at least that of those in the high income bracket) Top to Toe was fine. However, I hope the BBC let their sexy Francesco go back to making something with a bit more depth soon.