VInnie Jones spent her adult life defined by two images. The first is a photograph taken on the pitch when he was a professional footballer, where, scowling with undisguised 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 undisguised menace, he holds a pair of shotguns behind his head like a crucifix.
Maybe it’s time to add a third. Moments into his new series Vinnie Jones: In the Country, we are presented with the startling image of Jones standing in the middle of a grove flanked by bluebells, identifying the birdsong. “It’s wonderful,” he murmurs in amazed silence.
Obviously one of two things happening here. Either Jones left his angry, angry days behind him and became a thoughtful conservationist, or – and this is much more likely – he saw how much money Jeremy Clarkson made from his agricultural exhibition and wants to snatch a slice of that for himself.
Because it couldn’t be more like Clarkson’s Farm if we tried. It’s a show about a fallen country boy who returns to his spiritual roots to attempt to complete a huge, improbable project. This is as much about Jones’ team as it is about him (more on that soon). It’s very slightly deeper than it lets on. In fact, about the only thing that separates Vinnie Jones: In the Country from Clarkson’s Farm is, well, its complete lack of a farm.
Clarkson’s show has a very clear goal: to try to make a farm a commercial success, to illustrate the impossible lengths farmers must go to to make a living. Jones, for his part, is in the process of converting some stables into an office. He also owns 60 hectares (150 acres) of land nearby, but all we see him do with it (at least in the first episode) is wonder how many hedgehogs are in it. There’s so little direction that, at first glance, you could easily dismiss the series as an uninspired copycat.
And yet, despite this, it is enormously endearing. Part of this is due to the team Jones has assembled around him and how deeply unsuited they seem to be for the job. His assistant Emma is shown dropping things, misusing the company credit card, and becoming openly angry with the boss. Meanwhile, Jones’ right-hand man is a huge guy named Wobbly, who probably gets his name from his deep emotional instability. A man not particularly afraid of confrontation, Wobbly explodes at everyone around him with alarming frequency, before dismissing his tantrums as jokes. Wobbly may be a lovable guy in the flesh (to be clear, I’m writing this so he doesn’t come and hit me), but the show presents him as a nightmare. Compared to him, the famous Jones turns out to be a little eccentric.
There’s also an interesting tension in the show, in that it sometimes feels like what he wants it to be is thousands of miles away from what the producers want. Jones’ 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 going on. Yes, he seems to be devoting himself to a thousand things at once. Yes, he’s way more obsessed with hedgehogs than any man has any right to be. However, through the lens of the series, all of this is seen as the actions of a man who is striving to stave off the pain of heartbreak.
Not that Jones necessarily has it. Most of his introspection comes in the form of a voiceover – probably written by a producer – since he’s so determined to turn away 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 to find a vessel for his hustle. But, at least on camera, he can’t bear the idea of facing his grief.
Like everyone else in the world, I thought Vinnie Jones: In the Country would just be hours and hours of a guy going “Weyyyy” in a tractor. In reality, it’s much more complicated than that. And honestly, that’s good.
Vinnie Jones: In The Country is on Discovery+.