KEENE, N.H. -- British humor is something else again. You probably know the character of Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced " Boo-kay" ) on " Keeping Up Appearances" and how funny-repulsive her self-centered, social-climbing personality is. Well, picture two of them (minus the slapstick) at war with each other in a small English town back in 1930 and you have a good idea of what makes "Mapp and Lucia, Series 1 and 2," such a fabulous miniseries. It has been reissued in a four-DVD set from Acorn Media. However, no subtitles have been added.
Based on books by E.F. Benson, this series tells the story of the social leader Lucia Lucas (Geraldine McEwan) who rents from Elizabeth Mapp (Prunella Scales) a modest home in a village called Tilling-on-Sea. When the latter proves to be obnoxious socially, dishonest commercially, and nearly insanely jealous over Lucia's abilities (real and professed), a series of one-upmanships begins between the two that splits the village into factions and almost always ends with Mapp's humiliation. Even when a natural disaster binds the two for a long period of time ... But, no. You will have to see for yourself.
The first series, I must admit, is the funnier one, establishing the rivalry between the two title characters and winding up with the strangest bonding experience (albeit a brief one), thanks to ... Again, see for yourself. The second series sees Lucia practically take over the town as Lady Mayor.
McEwan gives us a bubbly Lucia, whose very phoniness endears her to us, mainly because she is so good at it. Scales (yes, it is indeed Mrs. Fawlty herself) is equally perfect as the dowdy Mapp, forever conceding and withdrawing when she sees that Lucia has a temporary upper hand but instantly regrouping and planning revenge even as she gives a toothy smile of friendship.
Equally memorable is the Georgie Pillson of Nigel Hawthorne (King George III, Sir Humphrey in the "Prime Minister" series, and countless other character roles). He plays the effeminate friend of Lucia just this side of camp, an utterly lovable old thing whose feelings for Lucia are strongly positive (but sexually ambiguous); but he can still stand his ground when he feels she is wrong. A truly believable character as Hawthorne plays it.
The other characters in the village are memorable to varying degrees. My especial favorite is "Quaint" Irene (Cecily Hobbs), obviously infatuated with Lucia and the voice of common sense in Tilling. You might recognize the second actress to play Hilda Rumpole, Marion Mathie, as the wealthy Mrs. Wise, while others have appeared in several British telecasts and films.
Oh, please do give this set a try. But you must accept the elements of British sophisticated humor and do not look for mugging, silly walks, and men in drag. This is a good wine, not canned beer.
-- I recall when in my teens I saw in some local art cinema a French film named "La Beaute du Diable" (The Beauty of the Devil), which I misremembered all these years as "Beauty and the Devil." But now that the Cohen Film Collection has included it in its DVD catalogue, I was quick to purchase it and my wife and I enjoyed it greatly.
This 1950 spin on the Faust legend is directed by Rene Clair and stars Gerard Philipe (who first appears as Mephistopheles) and Michel Simon (who first appears as the old Doctor Faust). The characters then switch bodies, so that Simon looks like the old Faust, while Philipe becomes his young assistant. As you can guess, the plot possibilities are numerically large, and many of them are used in this clever script.
Other than revealing any of them, I will simply recommend this film to one and all. The running time is 97 minutes, plus bonuses, and there are English subtitles.
Frank Behrens reports on classical and Broadway music as well as recordings of books and plays for the Arts & Entertainment section.