The Trip to Spain – Tilting at Windmills

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are on the road again, this time taking their very funny routine through the glorious countryside of Spain. This is the third in the series which previously found the duo traveling, first through Northern England and then through Italy. (Read the review of The Trip to Italy.) The scenery may change, but the basic plot and the actors’ interactions remain the same. The first two films were shown on the BBC, the third on Sky Atlantic. Director Michael Winterbottom manages to knit the episodes together in one cohesive and very enjoyable narrative.

Coogan and Brydon, playing slightly fictionalized versions of themselves, are traveling to Spain to write. Coogan is working on a book while Brydon has lined up an assignment to write restaurant reviews for the New York Times. That neither one manages to take a note or snap an Instagram photo hints at how seriously they consider the work part of the trip. In fact, the trip is just another opportunity for Coogan and Brydon to try out their impersonations of everyone from Al Pacino to Sean Connery, while also needling each other about career failings.

Steve Coogan (right) and Rob Brydon (Photo by Rory Mulvey. Courtesy of IFC Films)

The Welsh Brydon is known primarily for his TV roles in Britain and the occasional bit part in American films. Coogan, who starred alongside Judi Dench in Philomena, received two Academy Award nominations for the film, one as a writer for Best Adapted Screenplay and another as a producer for Best Film. While he’s bullish in defending his career to the more laid-back Brydon, in private Coogan feels he’s lost momentum. He’s contending with the loss of his agent and the insult of having his latest script being sent to a younger writer for a “polish.” (When Coogan’s former agent calls Brydon in a pitch to represent him, Brydon wisely keeps that news from his friend.)

With a wife, a daughter, and infant son back in Britain, Brydon’s personal life is also on more solid footing. (In real life, Brydon is remarried and has two daughters from his first marriage and two sons from his second, while Coogan is divorced with one daughter.) Coogan, on the other hand, learns that Joe, his 18 year-old son, is about to become a father, something that could derail the young man’s life. That news also means Joe won’t be traveling to Spain, a visit Coogan had been looking forward to. Also not joining Coogan is his longtime girlfriend, who tells him she is pregnant by her former boyfriend. When Brydon flies back to Britain, Coogan is more isolated than ever. Holed up in a villa that he had hoped to share with his son, Coogan can’t seem to conquer his writer’s block.

Rob Brydon (right) and Steve Coogan (Photo by Phill Fisk. Courtesy of IFC Films)

There is perhaps more darkness in this film than in The Trip to Italy. Back then, the pair drove while listening to Alanis Mourisette’s “You Ought to Know” – I’m here to remind you of the mess you left when you went away. This time around they sing along to Noel Harrison’s “The Windmills of Your Mind” with lyrics – When you knew that it was over, you were suddenly aware – becoming a melancholy reference to growing old. To further reinforce that theme, we find Coogan dressed as Don Quixote and Brydon as Sancho Panza in front of – you guessed it – a windmill.

Fortunately, the humor and, at times, silliness, prevent the film from becoming maudlin. Coogan and Brydon are adept at one-liners and their impersonations, while not as frequent as in the previous film, still fun to watch. Once again we get to see the food they will consume prepared in the kitchens by talented chefs. Servers explain each dish to the indifferent Coogan and Brydon. (Another hint that these reviews will never be found in the Times.) Besides the mouth-watering food, the magnificent scenery ( courtesy of Cinematographer James Clarke) will have many moviegoers planning vacations.

According to an article in The Guardian, Coogan and Brydon say they would be open to a fourth trip with Ireland as a possible location. We can only hope.

Top: Steve Coogan (right) and Rob Brydon
Photo by Rory Mulvey. Courtesy of IFC Films.

About Charlene Giannetti (352 Articles)
Charlene Giannetti, editor of Woman Around Town, is the recipient of seven awards from the New York Press Club for articles that have appeared on the website. A graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Charlene began her career working for a newspaper in Pennsylvania, then wrote for several publications in Washington covering environment and energy policy. In New York, she was an editor at Business Week magazine and her articles have appeared in many newspapers and magazines. She is the author of 13 non-fiction books, eight for parents of young adolescents written with Margaret Sagarese, including "The Roller-Coaster Years," "Cliques," and "Boy Crazy." She and Margaret have been keynote speakers at many events and have appeared on the Today Show, CBS Morning, FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and many others. Her last book, "The Plantations of Virginia," written with Jai Williams, was published by Globe Pequot Press in February, 2017. Her podcast, WAT-CAST, interviewing men and women making news, is available on Soundcloud and on iTunes. She is one of the producers for the film "Life After You," focusing on the opioid/heroin crisis that completed filming on February 1, 2020. Charlene divides her time between homes in Manhattan and Alexandria, Virginia.