Last night’s viewing included the delightful BBC adaptation of ‘Mapp and Lucia’. I was looking forward to this as I enjoyed the previous version with Prunella Scales as Mapp and Maggie Smith as Lucia. E F Benson was gay, and though in the ’30’s he could hardly have been ‘out’ in the modern sense, he is remarkably free in his fictional characterisations. Though Mapp and Lucia are both heterosexual and end up marrying, ‘quaint Irene’, the cigar-smoking, dungarees-wearing artist, is clearly lesbian. There is also, despite the petty snobberies, an enjoyable freemasonry among the characters who, apart from Miss Mapp who is continually counting things to make sure the servants haven’t stolen them, respect and appreciate their servants and talk to them almost as equals. Georgie Pillson will not take Glebe Cottage (why is there always a Glebe Cottage? I’m sure there’s one in the Archers, if it hasn’t been flattened to make way for a hyperspace bypass *) until he has consulted his maid Foljambe. Her comfort and convenience comes almost before his own.
Miss Mapp is amusing and we almost like her, but she’s too petty and miserly to be lovable: Lucia, however, is adorable. With her smatterings of Italian, she is the undisputed Queen of Tilling, even though she’s only there for the summer. Anna Chancellor is perfect as Lucia, but I’m not entirely sure about Miranda Richardson’s portrayal of Mapp: she’s a little too toothy and smiley for my liking. I think Prunella Scales did her suppressed rage much better.
The setting is also part of the appeal: set in Rye, Sussex, where Benson (and Henry James) lived, it is very attractive and features some unique houses. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but if you go to Rye there are plaques on the doors of the houses where some of the characters lived. It reminds me a little of Eyam in Derbyshire, though for different reasons. There, the names on the door were of plague victims who shut themselves up to die so that they wouldn’t spread the infection.
A plaque on both your houses?
*Yes, I know that’s ‘Hitch-Hiker’s’ but they might as well have a hyperspace bypass, the way they’re going