Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Magical Michael Palin Finds Joy and Humanity Inside Kim Jong-Un's Modern Horror Regime

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Magical Michael Palin Finds Joy and Humanity Inside Kim Jong-Un's Modern Horror Regime

Article excerpt

Byline: David Sexton The Viewer

Micahel Palin in North Korea Channel 5, 9pm BY AND large, we've just about had enough of those travel programmes in which faded celebrities or former politicians set off on a train or boat or bicycle journey, or in somebody's footsteps, or attempting some challenge or other Across the Andes by Frog as it might be, that ripping yarn in which Michael Palin skewered the genre long before he ever went to the Poles, the Sahara and the Himalayas or around the world in 80 days himself.

These shows take the basic definition of "television", letting us see things that are distant, a bit too literally. The format is knackered. Yet here comes Palin with another such programme and it's terrific. Almost nobody has been able to film openly in North Korea before but, after two years of negotiations, Palin and his production team were able to visit for a fortnight just after the April inter-Korean summit, just before the Trump talks in June.

They were by no means able to film at will, being strictly monitored by half-adozen guards and escorted only to what the regime wanted them to see. So it's hardly investigative reporting.

Yet daily life in North Korea is so very odd, and has been so little seen before in the West, that even the most humdrum street scenes or repressively organised visits are riveting to watch and there is no more likeable or trustworthy presenter than Michael Palin. His curiosity and humour make him the perfect intermediary, the ideal stand in for what we might feel were we there, a magic everyman.

In this first episode Palin goes to the capital, Pyongyang, a city completely reconstructed to the plans of Kim Ilsung, relatively prosperous compared with the poverty of the countryside.

Waking up in this weird city, its ugly blocks all painted bright colours to make them look more cheerful, he hears peculiar music emanating from all over the empty streets. …

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