‘DON’T FORGET THE DRIVER’ (BritBox)
Toby Jones has proven himself to be an international treasure with his various screen roles, particularly his co-starring role in the comedy “Detectorists,” which in some ways redefined his TV screen persona. In many ways “Don’t Forget the Driver,” which he also co-writes, is a continuation of that revelation: a dry, quiet comedy built around a Jones character that doesn’t quite “get” life but finds that life encircles him regardless
In “Don’t Forget the Driver,” Jones is Pete, a chartered bus driver in the seaside town of Bognor Regis. He lives with his directionless daughter, Kayla (Erin Kellyman), and near his mentally deteriorating mother, is depressed and unenthused by life and frustrated by his crass twin brother, Barry, who lives in Australia, also played by Jones. After a charter to France, Pete discovers that his bus has a stowaway, Rita (Luwam Teklizgi), an African woman brought into England illegally by smugglers.
What would typically be the gateway to a gritty crime drama instead moves into the uncharted territory of gentle comedy as Pete tries to help Rita despite his fear of getting in trouble. It’s an outreached hand that draws in his family members, as well as friends, offering Pete stronger connections and clearer purpose, even though he’s not prepared to completely comprehend what’s coalescing around him nor what exactly to do with it.
Good laughs are achieved, but not at the expense of the victims in life. Rita is presented with dignity, but far from idealized, and Pete is a totem for that form of Everyman who is inclined to do the right thing but doesn’t always have the guts, inclined to give people the benefit of the doubt but has been bullied often enough that trust doesn’t necessarily come easily. It’s these people that need to be reached and the imperfect Pete is able to show there is value in rising to the occasion, which is accentuated in contrast by brother Barry, who’s pleas to Pete to not get involved are definitely part of his racist view of immigrants and refugees.
In some ways, Rita becomes a blank slate for all the people involved and her instinct as a survivor is to do what needs to be done, even make friends with them, in order to find her brother. But “Don’t Forget the Driver” makes the point that Rita is not a blank slate and that she has her own goals that she is working for. The tendency to forget that people who fall into the category of “Other” are actually fully-formed people is a common weakness of even the most well-intentioned people. This is further driven home by Pete’s co-worker, Polish party boy mechanic Lech (Dino Kelly) and Kieren (Wills Whittington), the son of Pete’s love interest Fran (Claire Rushbrook), who has cerebral palsy. With each person he encounters Pete has trouble going beyond his own perception of who they are, but over time finds that it doesn’t matter who he thinks they are. They are who they are, and acceptance of that is part of coexistence.
“Don’t Forget the Driver” is a touching little comedy about emotional growth through empathy for other people and while it’s centered on a crucial political situation in England and elsewhere, the irrational fury to close borders and lob suspicion at outsiders, it expands the sentiment to the different situations that surround Pete. In doing so, it suggests that closing off countries is parallel to closing off people, it’s an act of emotional amputation that’s entirely needless. People are mostly just people, flawed and prejudiced but all just wanting understanding and respect. Don’t Forget the Driver is exactly what lovely television looks like.