< Back to TV menu

Ball-Trap on the Cote Sauvage (1989)

Ball-Trap on the Côte Sauvage, written by Andrew Davies, is a one-off comedy-drama.  It was produced by the BBC, and first broadcast on Wednesday 27 December 1989 (BBC1, 9:30pm).

Running time: 1 hour and 25 minutes


Ball-Trap on the Cote Sauvage image #1Ball-Trap on the Cote Sauvage image #2Ball-Trap on the Cote Sauvage image #4Ball-Trap on the Cote Sauvage image #6

Please click on each image to see the full version.


'We're good at being on holiday.  We're good at being a family,' emphasises Zoë's character, Sarah Marriot, at the beginning of Ball-Trap on the Côte Sauvage.  Distinguished writer Andrew Davies's quirky comedy-drama offers an entertaining, sometimes disturbing look at the behaviour of British families holidaying abroad.

Tellingly, it is pragmatic Sarah who is in the driving seat as she, her anxious husband Joe, and their two young children Tom and Lisa drive to the Horizon campsite in France's Côte Sauvage.  Like the other holidaymakers in the camp's British enclave - 'Brit Alley' - the Mariots are hoping to enjoy a week in the sun and forget about their problems.  The eerie groups of standing stones that surround the campsite seem to suggest that the week away will not be entirely untroubled.

Sarah has recently lost her father, while Joe, increasingly nervous and worried, has been unable to work as a writer for six months.  Despite her grief, Sarah has been compelled to assume control of family life; her husband is too listless even to unpack their luggage at the campsite. 

The Marriots' problems, however, seem to pale in comparison to those of the chaotic, noisy family that arrives at the campsite soon afterwards, having only narrowly avoided disaster on the way.  The Marriot children jokingly nickname the moody husband 'Smileyface' and his eccentric wife 'Early Bird' - so-called because she is always the first to wake up in Brit Alley, and has a knack for ruffling feathers among her campsite neighbours.

Much to their parents' amusement, Tom and Lisa give each of the other residents nicknames too.  For instance, 'Fatty Granada' is overweight and always cleaning his car; 'Prat' ignores his wife and attempts to discipline his children by regularly turning them upside down; and 'Fitness' and his family exercise constantly and love to make a show of their physical prowess. 

Meanwhile, Joe is both intrigued and perturbed by his conversation with 'Topless', a young man who considers the local nudist beaches to be 'paradise'.  Buried up to his neck in sand at the seaside, Joe ponders Topless's ideas and concludes that holidays are all about dreams, however strange. Everyone, he believes, goes on holiday in search of 'something vaguely wonderful'.  He keeps his own thoughts about the attractive women he encounters during the week to himself.

Sarah, Joe, and their children enjoy people-watching at the campsite, but they too are being watched.  In particular, Early Bird is impressed by how refreshingly normal they appear in contrast to her own brood, and good-humouredly nicknames the Marriots 'the \"perfect\" family'.

The Marriots' experiences on holiday gradually begin to inspire Joe.  Over dinner with Sarah and Early Bird, he reflects that while the latter may complain about her volatile husband, she perhaps thrives on the drama associated with her family life.  Joe recognises that 'living as families is self-evidently absurd and difficult [...], but we do it.'

While the Marriots may appear relatively calm and content to Early Bird, Joe is still privately being plagued by anxiety and nightmares, and is thrown into a terrible panic when Sarah swims out too far in the sea.  'I seem to have lost all my courage,' he confides to her.  Joe's situation worsens when he discovers what Smileyface is harbouring in his tent, and he becomes convinced that something terrible will happen as the holiday comes to an end.


Joe Marriot ... Jack Shepherd
Sarah Marriot ... Zoë Wanamaker
Tom Marriot ... James Groves
Lisa Marriot ... Katerina Hadjimatheou
Early Bird ... Miranda Richardson
Smileyface ... Michael Kitchen
James ... Edward Holmes
Chloe ... Amy Melhuish
Anna ... Victoria Shalet
Prat ... Timothy Kightley
Mrs Prat ... Annie Hayes
Topless ... Peter Howitt
Mrs Topless ... Erika Hoffman
Fitness ... Louis Emerick
Mrs Fitness ... Liz Whiting
Young Fitness ... Terry Sue Patt
Mr In-The-Trade ... Linal Haft
Mrs In-The-Trade ... Jane Wood
Nadine ... Sarah Smart
Fatty Granada ... Dave Atkins
Paul Britcamp ... Nicholas Barnes
Hilary Britcamp ... Victoria Hasted


Director: Jack Gold
Producer: Sue Birtwistle
Cinematography: Philip Bonham-Carter
Music: Richard Hartley


Although set in France, Ball-Trap on the Côte Sauvage was actually filmed in Cornwall

Having become something of a cult classic, the programme was repeated on BBC Four as part of a season celebrating the screenplays of Andrew Davies in 2003.


BBC Store: Ball-Trap on the Côte Sauvage digital download

Related links

Ball-Trap on the Cote Sauvage programme details - Memorable TV

Ball-Trap on the Cote Sauvage programme details - BFI Film & TV Database

Ball-Trap on the Cote Sauvage programme details - IMDB

Site design and original text © 2002 - 2019 www.zoewanamaker.com, unless specified otherwise.
Most images used on this site are the copyright of their photographer, Ms. Wanamaker, and/or the production company of the show. Use of these images is covered under the fair use limitation in the USA, and the fair dealing limitaton in the UK.
This site is a non-commercial endeavour.