The BBC’s best New Year present in a long time is a new television adaptation of E.F. Benson’s Mapp and Lucia novels, set during the 1930s. For those who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting these ladies, Mrs Emmeline Lucas and Miss Elizabeth Mapp are competing queens of cultural snobbery. Lucia, having vanquished all rivals in her native village of Riseholme, moves to Tilling after the death of her husband. Unfortunately, Tilling already has a ruler in the person of Mapp, and battle royal ensues. There’s also a foray into London society for Lucia.
For the purpose of this three-episode adaptation, the story is focused on Lucia’s first few months in Tilling. I highly recommend the novels for the proper full flavour.
Some aficionados will be tutting about how this series can’t possibly improve on Channel Four’s 1985 series, and it’s true the competition is daunting. It starred Prunella Scales as Mapp, Geraldine McEwan as Lucia, Denis Lill as Major Benjy Flint, and Nigel Hawthorne as Georgie. But the BBC version, given that it’s shorter and more concentrated, more than holds its own.
Anna Chancellor’s Lucia and Steve Pemberton’s Georgie don’t do as much of the baby talk, but otherwise they’re completely believable. Miranda Richardson is brilliant as Mapp, fully expressing her suppressed rage, aided and abetted by touches of her Queen Elizabeth character in Blackadder II. And Mark Gatiss makes a perfect Major Benjy.
The other star in this series is, of course, the town of Rye in East Sussex, where Benson lived and wrote the novels. Tilling can be laid on top of the real Rye so exactly that you can work out which houses the characters lived in.
Mapp and Lucia is on BBC iPlayer. Get it while you can. Now then, I still have the last episode to enjoy. Au reservoir.