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'Brazil With Michael Palin'
(Michael Palin / DVD / NR / (2012) 2014 / BBC Video)

Overview: Michael Palin travels around Brazil, from Amazonia to Rio, from the North East to the Deep South, to find out what makes this vast country tick.

DVD Verdict: Let's be perfectly honest here, 'Brazil With Michael Palin' might well have come out in time to match the World Cup 2014 fever ... BUT it was actually filmed way back in 2012. But that doesn't mean that this BBC mini-series is not informative or required listening / viewing, far from it.

Funnily enough, back in 2012 “the Palin effect” would have referred to the nauseous feeling that comes with recalling how, six years ago, one Sarah Palin came close to controlling America’s nuclear arsenal! Before 2008, though, the phrase had a more positive meaning, used by travel agents to describe the palpable tourism boost that Michael Palin’s hugely popular TV travelogues occasionally gave far-flung destinations.

There was no doubt his great mini-series, 'Brazil with Michael Palin' – his first for five years (from original air date in the UK) – saw a fresh surge of holidaymakers descending upon Rio de Janeiro at that time either. With the eyes of the world turning to Brazil ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, there couldn’t be a better time for a reminder of just how little most of us know about this vast country – beyond football, Carnival and the Amazon.

Even Palin, “the man who’s been everywhere”, had to admit he’d never been before, despite Brazil being the world’s fifth biggest nation and an emerging economic superpower.

Palin plunges straight into the coastal cities of São Luís, Recife and Salvador, where Brazil’s modern, surprisingly Afro-centric urban culture could be highlighted and explored. Taking a ferry to the crumbling former slave port of Alcântara, he explains how, of the 11 million Africans enslaved between the 16th and 19th centuries, more than a third were shipped to Brazil to work on plantations.

They greatly outnumbered the indigenous population and the relatively few ruling Portuguese; today, in some cities, 80 per cent of the population are descended from slaves.

From this “improbable mix”, Palin tells us, were created the essential characteristics of Brazilian life. The love of music, food and festivity; the way of doing things with an Afro-European twist, be it the local candomblé religion’s colourful fusion of animism and Christianity, or the homegrown martial art capoeira, which on this evidence looked to be mostly dance.

As TV adventurers go, Palin’s appeal has always been his gentle, amiable presence – a slightly diffident everyman, in whose shoes even the mildest armchair travelers could imagine themselves. Now 70 years-old, the amusing asides are less in evidence and the relentless vivacity of the Brazilians seemed to wear him down at times.

Even so, this was a hugely enjoyable introduction to a country that looks all too capable of overwhelming the unsuspecting visitor with its unstoppable zest for life. And whether consulting a rune-reader regarding England’s World Cup prospects (yup, see how that turns out in both the video AND in real life!), enjoying a raucous Bumba-meu-boi (folk theater) ceremony, striding out across the shifting dunes and lagoons of the Lençóis Maranhenses National Park, or simply enjoying the abundant attentions of a boisterous lady chef in Salvador, Palin remained, as ever, a calm and exceptionally charming guide. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.