The second instalment of the new BBC Mapp and Lucia lived up completely to the promise of the first, and went even a little further. Perhaps the most pleasing aspect of this adaptation (and I say perhaps because there are some pretty fabulous hats which lay claim to that title) is how unashamed it is of adapting the book. The first episode shrugged off the Riseholme fete to streamline the plot, and this one merged characters and even imported a narrative from another novel. The guru plotline was lifted from Queen Lucia (which takes place entirely in Riseholme, and doesn’t involve Elizabeth Mapp or any of the Tilling characters), and brought with it Daisy Quantock’s health crazes and spiritual faddism, which were grafted onto Diva Plaistow’s character.
This made for a rather funnier entanglement as to the visitor and who should be allowed to “run” him, since he arrived at Diva’s house in answer to her letter to the Hindu Society, but of course thought Elizabeth was the lady of the house, and was subsequently scrobbled over to Mallards by Lucia, who offered him the elegant grounds and secret garden which actually belong to Elizabeth (for now…) This allowed for lots of satirical play on the notion of “sending”, in which the guru’s assertions that he was simply “sent” by the Guides crossed with Diva’s insistence that she had “sent off” for him like an item in a catalogue.
This narrative strand was itself sharpened up, though a story of middle-class English people fawning patronisingly over an Indian mystic has as satirical a bite now as it did in the 1930s. Instead of the guru’s cooking skills being discovered by accident when Robert Quantock was dyspeptic, they were slipped totally unremarked into his arrival at Elizabeth’s household. None of the characters seemed to find it surprising that Mapp should expect her spiritual teacher to also make curries for her, though of course when they discovered he was a curry chef from London they all assumed he could not have had a spiritual life after all. It felt like a pretty sharp glance at British attitudes to multiculturalism and immigration, which so often regard other cultures as there to provide “exotic” foods and “teach us so much” about how poverty is spiritually ennobling. The chops and splices in the narrative made this a much more direct and snarky plot.
Steve Pemberton’s script is superb, which does make it slightly surprising that his reading of Georgie Pillson is so one-note. However, his interplay with Nicholas Woodeson’s Algernon Wyse is terribly enjoyable, slightly implying that Pillson finds Wyse a bit off-puttingly camp. After too much of the sinister “local” touch in Major Benjy’s first scene telling the tiger story, Mark Gatiss’ Major became rather charming, and formed an unlikely bond with Georgie. I don’t think there’s much of that in the book, blokey male solidarity not being a long suit of E.F. Benson’s writing, but it’s an interesting development and added a touch of warmth to them both at the end. I want a whole series just about Gemma Whelan’s Irene Cole, which is proof that she’s doing the part right – I think you’re always meant to hanker after more Quaint Irene than you ever quite get.
I don’t know how the last episode will bring things all together, though surely either the Contessa di Faraglione or Olga Bracely must enter soon, to break up the brittle detente which has been so recently achieved in Tilling…