This British miniseries, based on the wonderful E.F. Benson novels, has a cult-like following all around the world. Geraldine McEwan plays the recently widowed Lucia, who visits and eventually relocates to the English village Tilling-on-Sea. Lucia rents a house from Mapp (Prunella Scales) for the summer and soon the battle lines are drawn.
English bitchery has never been funnier as these She Devils plot against each other for control of Tilling society. Nigel Hawthorne plays Georgie, Lucia's swishy co-schemer. It is the best of british comedy.
MAPP and LUCIA
by Holly E. Ordway | posted November 2, 2002 - DVDTalk.com
There are some things that are easier experienced than explained, and Mapp & Lucia is one of them. Entertaining: yes; memorable: most certainly; easy to sum up: definitely not.
Mapp & Lucia Series 1, based on the 1931 novel of the same name by E.F. Benson, is a comic portrayal of the lives of a handful of eccentric, scheming socialites in small-town 1930s Britain. We meet Lucia (Geraldine McEwan), a widow with a penchant for dropping Italian phrases left and right (though her neighbors suspect that she doesn't actually speak the language), who effortlessly dominates the social scene of her home town, until one day she decides to take a holiday with her friend Georgie (Nigel Hawthorne). She ends up in the town of Tilling, which appears to offer a fresh field for her social manipulations, except that Tilling has until then been under the sway of Miss Elizabeth Mapp (Prunella Scales), who is determined that she won't give up her rule without a fight. The irresistible force meets the immovable object: Mapp and Lucia. Who will become the undisputed queen of Tilling society?
Mapp & Lucia is over the top; so much so, in fact, that if it were much more over the top it would break free of the Earth's gravitational pull and fly off into space. McEwan and Scales in particular take their characters of Lucia and Mapp to the height of exaggeration... but somehow, in a peculiar way, it works. It's clear that the characters and situations are presented deliberately as being absurd, as being caricatures and satires on the behavior of the "upper crust" and its social circle.
The moment that I really began to enjoy Mapp & Lucia was when I realized that it wasn't necessary to actually like any of the main characters to enjoy the series. The more typical approach to presenting a story is to have at least one main character who is likeable, but in Mapp & Lucia... well, they're pretty much all hypocritical, back-stabbing social climbers. They're also very funny once their individual quirks start becoming evident.
The secondary characters do provide a nice counterpoint to the bizarre antics of the main characters. The servants, and in fact all of the "ordinary working folk," come across as quite normal and pleasant people; by the end of the five episodes of the series, several of the servants had taken on fairly solid minor roles and were quite likeable, especially Grosvenor (Geraldine Newman), Lucia's maid, who is by all appearances quite proper, but who enjoys helping out with a little bit of her mistress's scheming. Another member of the cast who acts as a foil to the "polite society" of Tilling is "Quaint Irene," (Cecily Hobbs) the pipe-smoking, completely unconventional woman who paints shockingly modernistic paintings ("women wrestlers!") and light-heartedly goes around saying exactly what she thinks and enjoying life exactly as she finds it.
E.F. Benson wrote a series of novels in the 1920s and 1930s featuring the characters of Lucia and Mapp, and both appear as protagonists in their own books before meeting in this one. The fact that Mapp & Lucia picks up the story in the middle of the series of books explains the fact that as the series opens, we are tossed right into the lives of Lucia and her friends without much context for what's going on. Readers of the earlier books will immediately recognize the characters, of course; fortunately, it's not hard for other viewers to pick up on the characters.