A PEACH OF A PREMISE
Mapp & Lucia isn't quite like any period drama you'll have ever seen before. True, at first glance it looks a bit Agatha Christie, with its rustic English setting and cast of colourful characters (complete with a hapless local vicar). But rest assured, this is no whodunit. Indeed, the only weapons wielded here are words. Specifically, the words exchanged by Elizabeth Mapp and Emmeline "Lucia" Lucas, two ladies locked in hilarious social rivalry.
Miss Mapp is the queen bee of her little town, a sharp-tongued busybody who prides herself on knowing everybody's business, and throwing the best parties in the county. Think Hyacinth Bouquet, but with more teeth. But everything changes when Lucia struts into town, with her fancy airs and fancier tea. Two alpha females in one small community? This will never do, and it's time for battle lines to be drawn...
EVERYTHING IS GORGEOUS
Not only is the one-up-womanship between Mapp and Lucia glorious to behold, but you'll relish being in their world. Because it's just so pretty. Imagine a sun-dappled wonderland of emerald lawns, pastel-hued flowers and ornate cobblestoned lanes. It's unashamedly chocolate box-like, and the perfect escape from the noise and frenzy of 21st Century life. Why, it's so dashedly pretty and soothing, that watching Mapp & Lucia could almost count as therapy. At least, until Miss Mapp gets wind of what Lucia's been doing to her beloved fig tree, and things get dramatically less serene in double-quick time...
IT'S LIKE AN ENGLISH FAIRY TALE
So we've established that it's just about the prettiest place you'll ever see, but where is Mapp & Lucia actually set? Welcome to the town of Tilling, which is a bit like Miss Marple's St Mary Mead, but with a considerably reduced body count. Or you might think of it as the kind of village Charles Dickens would have created if he was in a very good mood. It's more than simply quaint and idyllic... it's downright adorable. Even the local estate agent - Woolgar & Pipstow - sounds adorable. This is a picture-postcard vision of England which probably never quite existed in such a perfect form, but which we can now visit at our leisure, thanks to the magic portal of television.
IT SPARKLES LIKE A G&T
While everything looks literally rosy in Tilling, don't be fooled. There's a quite staggering amount of cattiness among the locals - the kind of cattiness that will make you snort into your tea (unless you happen to be the target, of course).
One thing you should know about Tilling is that nobody - NOBODY - can do gossip like the good folk who live here. Curtains twitch, ladies peer through binoculars, secret whispers are exchanged in the corner shop. They have, in other words, elevated the art of talking behind each other's backs to levels of expertise rivalling the days of Jane Austen. Whether they're being brazenly rude or flabbergastingly two-faced, the conversation fizzes like a G&T on a balmy summer's day.
THE LOCALS ARE UNFORGETTABLE
Speaking of the locals, brace yourself for some of the most memorable characters ever to stroll, scamper and flounce across the screen. There's Lucia's bosom buddy Georgie, a well-dressed dandy who somehow manages to be supremely confident and utterly panic-stricken at all times... especially when he has some very unsettling dreams about Lucia herself.
Then there's the Major - a former military man who is always semi-sozzled on Scotch, and who is perpetually perplexed by all the tomfoolery and gossip that swirls around him. As he ruefully puts it, "The ladies of Tilling do have a pretty sharp eye for each other's failings." We also have to mention the Reverend Bartlett, who may or may not be Scottish, and local painter Irene, who cuts quite a bohemian dash with her waistcoats and cigars...
IT HAS A PITCH-PERFECT CAST
So who brings these vibrant characters to life? A simply spectacular selection of stars. Anna Chancellor puts her queen-like demeanor to excellent effect as Lucia, while Miranda Richardson is a revelation as her frantic nemesis Miss Mapp (there's a particularly "meta" moment when she sees Lucia dressed up as Queen Elizabeth I, whom Richardson herself so memorably played in Blackadder).
The supporting cast is marvellous too, with Mark Gatiss cast winningly against type as the Major, and his fellow League of Gentlemen comrade Steve Pemberton as the hysterically camp Georgie. Look out as well for Katy Brand and Joanna Scanlan as his all-too-convincing sisters...