Culture Trips

Why Mr Bean and Borat are ready to retire | Film

Nothing lasts for ever. In time the trees will wither, the seas will boil and the mountains will crumble to dust. And nothing reinforces the ephemeral cruelty of the universe like the news that Rowan Atkinson doesn’t want to be Mr Bean any more.

In an interview with the Radio Times this week, Atkinson said of Mr Bean: “I don’t much enjoy playing him. The weight of responsibility is not pleasant. I find it stressful and exhausting, and I look forward to the end of it.” And that’s fair enough; Mr Bean has now been a going concern for 31 years, and has taken the form of a television programme, two films, an animated series, a sketch performed for the Olympics nine years ago and – slightly improbably – four books.

Besides, Atkinson is now in his mid-60s, and it’s only natural that his tastes will change over time. In his 30s, he had the physical energy to wobble around with his eyes all big. Now that he has the wisdom of an older man, he’d rather devote that energy to attacking cancel culture so vehemently that you’d be forgiven for thinking that Mr Bean was actually a boundary-pushing political satire about Islamic fundamentalism and not a TV show about a man with goggly eyes making “ooh” noises at inanimate objects.

Mr Bean is not alone in his retirement plans. This week, Sacha Baron Cohen revealed that Borat is now similarly extinct, telling Variety: “I brought Borat out [of retirement] because of Trump. There was a purpose to this movie, and I don’t really see the purpose to doing it again.” We’ve lost two indelible comedy characters in a matter of days? Who could possibly be next? Edina Monsoon? Hyacinth Bucket?

Steve Coogan and Judi Dench in Philomena.
Steve Coogan and Judi Dench in Philomena. Photograph: Alex Bailey/Allstar/BBC Films

Not to worry though, because the creators have not completely abandoned their shticks. After all, anyone who saw Cohen’s This Is America series will know that it basically consisted of loads of Boraty Borats Boratting like mad at a succession of Borat-style oblivious stooges. Similarly, this year will see Atkinson’s streaming debut on a Netflix series entitled Man Vs Bee, which sounds very much like he marched into the company’s HQ and said: “What if Mr Bean, but insect?”

Still, it’s only fair to let Borat and Mr Bean die. Both characters have been around since the 1990s, and both are so broadly drawn and familiar that they automatically overshadow anything else that Rowan Atkinson and Sacha Baron Cohen have ever done. They’re deeply creative people, and perhaps these definitive murders will set them free to explore other outlets.

Plus, never say never. You’ll remember that Steve Coogan once went sour on Alan Partridge, feeling that the creation had become a millstone around his neck. It looked as if we had seen the last of the character for ever but, once Coogan had proved his artistic credibility with Philomena, he became more comfortable with the legacy of Partridge. As such, he is filming the second series of BBC One’s This Time With Alan Partridge.

Similarly, when Ricky Gervais ended The Office in 2003, David Brent went down with the ship. But Gervais’s later success gave him the freedom to revisit his best-known character in the 2016 movie David Brent: Life on the Road. Although, actually, that film was horrible, and it made me hate The Office.

On second thought, maybe Borat and Mr Bean are better left dead.

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