For the past few years, BBC One have aired a number of two or three part dramas in the week between Christmas and New Year’s presumably to keep the viewers tuned in until the new season begins. Following on from such hits as Restless and Death Comes to Pemberley is Mapp and Lucia; an adaptation of EF Benson’s novels by Steve Pemberton. Mapp and Lucia has plenty of the qualities that are needed for this kind of late December miniseries namely beautiful locations, great period costumes and a recognisable cast. However, I found it to be a little too twee for my tastes and felt it was a fairly superficial piece.
The action in Mapp and Lucia all takes place in the town of Tilling; a small coastal resort where everybody is currently passing judgement on each other. This is especially true of the titular Miss Elizabeth Mapp; a terrifying presence who uses an incredibly fake smile to mask her passive aggressive nature. The majority of the townsfolk are in awe of Miss Mapp and either follow her around like bewildered puppies or stay out of her way altogether. Things change significantly in Tilling with the arrival of Miss Emmeline Lucas, known to most as Lucia, who has come to rent Miss Mapp’s house for the summer. Alongside her colourful companion Georgie Pilsen, Lucia descends on Tilling and soon is the subject of much gossip among the townsfolk. With Lucia determined to stay in Tilling; Georgie rents the house next to her but he’s worried that their platonic friendship may develop into something more.
Although I found the pace sagged throughout the hour, I have to admit that I enjoyed the game of social chess that Mapp and Lucia played with one another. As Mapp is someone who is used to getting her own way, it takes time for her to get used to having somebody as smart as Lucia living in the village. Their feud begins when Lucia instructs the gardener, who she is paying for, not to follow Mapp’s orders and instead do what she has instructed. She then begins to get the more influential members of the community on her side by inviting them round for several small dinners. One of my favourite scenes of the whole piece was when Mapp burst into her house, breaking the lock in the process, after she had learnt that Lucia planned to hold a garden party. The garden party itself was a fitting end to the drama as Mapp felt that she had won back her social crown only to be met with Lucia dressed head-to-toe in a Queen Elizabeth I costume.
Whilst I appreciate that I’m not the target demographic for a costume drama like Mapp and Lucia I still felt that it was far too gentle. Although I’m not saying I wanted a cavalcade of depressing situations; Mapp and Lucia was so lightweight that for the most part my attention waned. I think I may well have enjoyed the piece more had I been more aware of EF Benson’s stories although it’s evident that Steve Pemberton has a great admiration for them. Even though the story wasn’t for me, I can still appreciate that Pemberton has adapted the people of Tilling well as the major players all feel like well-rounded characters. Pemberton’s particular skill lies in bringing out the humour of Benson’s work and demonstrating how silly every character is. I laughed out loud at least three times, mostly at the hijinks of Miss Mapp, and feel that others will chuckle a lot more than I did. Pemberton also demonstrated how everybody in the story was hiding something whether it be Rev Bartlett’s real accent or Stevie’s hair loss. But despite Pemberton’s love of his characters they all felt a bit over-the-top and therefore I struggled to care about anything they did.
One element of Mapp and Lucia I can appreciate is the visual splendour of the piece and in particular the way in which Tilling has been recreated. Mostly shot in Rye, East Sussex; Mapp and Lucia’s cinematography is absolutely sumptuous and the exterior scenes really make the audience understand why people would want to holiday in Tilling. Like any good BBC One period drama, Mapp and Lucia also benefits from brilliantly designed costume with each character being awarded a garb that suits their personality. From Mapp’s frilly floral patterns to Georgie’s splendid range of hats everything worn in Mapp and Lucia looks tremendous. Similarly the production design of each individual abode is flawless which is fitting in a drama whose characters are totally fixated on the size of their neighbours’ houses.
As well as the tremendous design, Mapp and Lucia benefits from a brilliant ensemble cast which is led by two superb character actresses. In her role as Miss Mapp, Miranda Richardson is perfect as she swans around Tilling with her nose in the air challenging anyone who defies her. Richardson also seems unhindered by the false teeth she has been asked to where to the extent that you would believe that they’re the actress’ own gnashers. I felt that Richardson was particularly strong when it came to the physical comedy of her character including the aforementioned scene in which she bursts into her own front room. Anna Chancellor meanwhile takes the opportunity to be the straight one in the duo and handles herself with grace and dignity throughout. Chancellor and Richardson share brilliant chemistry throughout the piece and make you believe in Mapp and Lucia’s social spat. Pemberton himself excels in the role of the charismatic Georgie and seems to relish the character’s larger-than-life persona. Fine support is also provided by Felicity Montagu, Paul Ritter, Mark Gattis and Pippa Haywood who flesh out their roles as the key members of Tilling’s population.
On the surface, Mapp and Lucia is a great drama due to its lavish production design, beautiful costumes, wonderful cinematography and fantastic performances. However, I found it to be fairly lightweight and thought the story really dragged throughout the hour. Being unaware of Benson’s original stories, I wonder if Mapp and Lucia would’ve been better had it been a two-parter rather than stripped over three instalments. However, after watching just one episode of Mapp and Lucia I have decided it’s not really for me and won’t be tuning in over the next two nights.
What did you think to Mapp and Lucia? Did you enjoy it more than I did?
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