Prima-donna dramas and hedonist paintings: the best culture about Europe

Prima-donna dramas and hedonist paintings: the best culture about Europe

From misty travelogues to the bitchiest of bureaux, our critics select music, tv, literature, art and film that celebrates life on the continent

The Beautiful South’s Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott.


As the nights draw in, our British tendency is often to romanticise life elsewhere, to long for sunnier climes as a circuit break from the drudgeries of late consumer capitalism. Sometimes, it takes a band like the Beautiful South to pull you back down and remind you that even the most exotic locales have their problems. Rotterdam (Or Anywhere) is not an uplifting choice, but other than Jess Glynne’s Jet2 anthem, Hold My Hand, what other song truly conjures such a Pavlovian sensation of crowding on to a budget airline, nervously hoping that all your problems might be solved mid-air? Jenessa Williams


Call My Agent!

The premise of a show where celebrities guest‑ star as themselves every episode while a team of agents manage their triumphs and rejections may sound insufferable. But this riotous French series Call My Agent! is anything but. Framed around four casting agents at the fictional Agence Samuel Kerr in Paris, we’re treated to the business world of French cinema – with all its ridiculous dramatics, financial troubles, glamour, prima‑donna clients and cut-throat competition, balanced with genuine affection, warmth and good banter. And Paris shines just as brightly as the show’s A-list guests, and the agents themselves. Jason Okundaye


A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor

In 1933, the 18-year-old Patrick Leigh Fermor set out on foot from the Hook of Holland and walked across Europe to Istanbul. He was carrying a few clothes, some letters of introduction, a Loeb translation of Horace’s Odes and the Oxford Book of English Verse. He sometimes slept in barns and under the stars, sometimes in castles, helped on his way by the kindness of strangers and his own charm. Years later, the diary he had made of this journey was found in a Danubian castle and became the basis for A Time of Gifts. Published in 1977, it combined the innocence of youth and the benefit of hindsight to provide a remarkable and intimate inside view of life in Europe at a time of epochal change. Sam Jordison


Martin Eden.

A working-class sailor meets and becomes enchanted by the daughter of a wealthy industrialist in this recent Italian adaptation of Jack London’s seminal 1909 novel Martin Eden, transposed to Naples. Admiring his lover Elena’s classical education, Martin resolves to become a writer and win the respect of the literary elite, to scepticism from his fellow workers and derision from Elena’s family. What begins as a meet-cute quickly turns into a more complex and rich portrait of the historical and political schisms of 20th-century Europe, with visually arresting depictions of the roiling socialist uprising at the docks, the spectre of war, and the price of one man’s unchecked ambition. Rebecca Liu


Luncheon of the Boating Party, 1881, by Pierre-Auguste Renoir .

The British and American image of “continental” glamour was created by the impressionists, and you can’t get a lusher vision of it than Renoir’s joyously unbuttoned Luncheon of the Boating Party. There’s sex in the air as everyone flirts over wine and grapes at a long, lingering midday meal. When it was painted, the men’s bare arms were outrageous. These muscled rowers are the objects of desire, eyed up by red-lipped, hungry women. It is both civilised and raw. The same hedonist dream would seduce us to “the continent” right up until Brexit put a damper on all the fun. Jonathan Jones