Love in the Countryside: This rural dating show is no cattle market
Reality TV: the makers of this BBC Two series don’t treat their subjects like a lost tribe or a herd of lovelorn Fresians. It’s Lisdoonvarna matchmaking with less Guinness
Rural interconnection scheme: Paul, Richard, Christine, Mark, Wendy, Ed, Heather and Peter in BBC Two’s Love in the Countryside. Photograph: Pete Dadds
How do you find romance in the middle of nowhere? This is the premise of BBC Two’s genteel new dating show Love in the Countryside, in which eight lonely rural romantics are matched up with potential dates and given a push in the right direction from a farmer’s daughter, radio DJ Sara Cox.
With its quaint set-up and emphasis on the isolation of the farming world, it would be easy for the show to descend into the removed archness of something like the documentary series Stetsons and Stilettos, which seems to hold its subjects at arm’s length, observing country life as if studying a lost tribe of the Amazon. There are no Hardy-style wife auctions here; this is no opportunistic roll in the hay or a Farmyard First Dates deliberately mismatching couples and waiting for the anticipated culture clash. Instead, Love in the Countryside is a non-judgmental warm hug of a show. It’s fully invested in concocting the right formula for its applicants and showing how love can elude anyone: those that are feeling fragile or are not part of a singles social scene, just like the almost-forgotten hard-working men and women of the agricultural industry. It’s Lisdoonvarna matchmaking with less Guinness and carousing and more tea and sympathy.
The show concentrates on the brave participants making a genuine connection, so the eight hopefuls of all ages set up dating profiles on the BBC website and await an influx of love letters from possible suitors before inviting a small selection to join them on their respective farms to see how things progress. The analog element of correspondence by mail may be a bit too chintzy and Cath Kidson for some, but any rose-tinted cuteness evaporates when 28-year-old equine vet Heather receives a picture of a naked man’s behind with one of her notes, proving that you can never escape the tyranny of the unwanted selfie even if you can only be reached by carrier-pigeon.
Some of the group are more hesitant than others and fail to throw themselves into the venture with the same spirit as divorced farmer Pete, who scrolls through his shoebox of letters in gleeful disbelief. “She’s a right corker!” he exclaims after examining each and every letter. Young dairy farmer Ed ends up with an abundance of riches: two whole boxes crammed full of willing dates that he bashfully attempts to conceal from those who have not been as fortunate.
Sometimes being elbow deep in a cow’s rectum is preferable to swiping through Tinder of an evening
Then there are those for whom the process is not as successful and fails to produce any viable leads, such as the formidable, wise-cracking Wendy who seems resigned to her fate. “I knew I’d get older ones and most of them I don’t find attractive,” she sighs disappointedly.
“It’s not a conference on cow insemination!” Cox shouts, scolding forlorn singleton farmer Christine who has a less-than-enthusiastic response to the thoughts of heading back onto the dating scene as she scans through her batch of letters. Although, who could blame her? Those in the modern love trenches understand that sometimes being elbow deep in a cow’s rectum is preferable to swiping through Tinder of an evening and that both mostly yield the same results.
Christine moved back to her family home in Dumfries and Galloway after her father became ill and now, after his death, she runs the cattle and sheep farm alone, longing for an opportunity to dress up and be paid attention to. She seems slightly more vulnerable than the rest, growing tearful on camera as she describes negotiating the tough terrain of single life after seven years of being alone. She is underwhelmed by the responses she receives, and it takes gentle coaxing and reassurance from her friend Marie for her to continue with the show, her unhappiness echoing the wine and whines of a typical Friday night in any town or city before a trusted friend commandeers your phone to contact “the one that doesn’t look like a serial killer”.
Blossoming romances might not be everyone’s fate in Love in the Countryside but, with its irrepressible positivity, it may manage to transform some fallow hearts into a space where happiness can eventually grow.