Vinnie Jones has spent his adult life being defined by two images. The first is a photograph taken on the pitch during his days as a professional footballer where, scowling with unconcealed menace, he reaches behind him and grabs Paul Gascoigne’s testicles as hard as he can. The second is a promotional photo for Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels where, scowling with unconcealed menace, he holds a pair of shotguns behind his head like a crucifix.
Maybe now it’s time to add a third. A few moments into his new series Vinnie Jones: In the Country, we’re presented with the startling image of Jones standing in the middle of a bluebell-flanked copse, identifying birdsong. “It’s wonderful,” he whispers in an awestruck hush.
Clearly, one of two things is going on here. Either Jones has left his wild and angry days behind him, and has matured into a thoughtful conservationist or – and this is far more likely – he has seen how much money Jeremy Clarkson has made from his farming show and wants to tear off a slice of it for himself.
Because it couldn’t be more like Clarkson’s Farm if it tried. It’s a show about a lapsed country boy returning to his spiritual roots to try to make a go of a huge unlikely project. It is as much about Jones’s team as it is about him (more on that soon). It’s very slightly deeper than it lets on. In fact, just about the only thing separating Vinnie Jones: In the Country from Clarkson’s Farm is, well, its total lack of a farm.
Clarkson’s show has a very clear purpose: to try to make a commercial success of a farm, to illustrate the impossible lengths farmers must go to in order to make a living. Jones, on the other hand, is just turning some stables into an office. He also has 60 hectares (150 acres) of land nearby, but the most we see him do with it (at least in the first episode) is wonder how many hedgehogs it has in it. There is so little direction that, at first glance, you could quite easily write off the show as an uninspired copyist.
And yet, despite this, it’s enormously endearing. This is partly down to the team that Jones has assembled around him, and how deeply unsuited to the job they seem to be. His PA Emma is shown dropping things, abusing the company credit card and openly losing her temper with the boss. Meanwhile, Jones’s right-hand man is a huge guy called Wobbly, who presumably got his name from his deep emotional instability. A man not especially scared of confrontation, Wobbly blows up at everyone around him with alarming frequency, before writing his tantrums off as banter. Wobbly might be a lovely guy in the flesh (to be clear, I’m writing this so he doesn’t come and punch me), but the show presents him as a nightmare to be around. Compared to him, the famously volatile Jones comes off as a bit eccentric.
There is also an interesting tension to the show, in that it sometimes feels like what he wants it to be is a thousand miles away from what the producers want. Jones’s wife, Tanya, died four years ago, and the show does its best to imbue every moment with a palpable sense of loss. Yes, Jones has a lot on. Yes, he seems to be throwing his all into a thousand different projects at once. Yes, he is far more obsessed with hedgehogs than any man has a right to be. However, through the prism of the show, these are all seen as the actions of a man scrabbling hard to stave off the pain of grief.
Not that Jones is necessarily having it. The bulk of his introspection comes in the form of a voiceover – likely written by a producer – since he is so determined to deflect and move on in person. And these opposing forces can’t help but paint a fascinating picture of masculinity. Jones is clearly a little lost, desperate for any vessel for his restlessness. But, at least on camera, he cannot bear the idea of staring his bereavement in the face.
Like everyone else in the world, I assumed that Vinnie Jones: In the Country would just be hours and hours of a bloke going “Weyyyy” in a tractor. In reality, it’s a lot more complicated than that. And, honestly, it’s all the better for it.
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