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09-04-2006 Mapp & Lucia - The Complete TV Series - Network DVD (Catalogue Number: 7952474)
Mapp & Lucia R2 Way back in the mid-Eighties, a TV series appeared on Channel 4 that so entertained it's viewers that they went to their local bookshops and libraries to find more by the author on whose books the series was based - thus was started the current popularity of E.F.Benson! 
Well, that's simplifying things a bit, but it is true that the TV series, made by London Weekend Television (LWT) for Channel 4, was highly instrumental in the subsequent reissuings of Fred's books!  Given the relative popularity of the show (which garnered excellent reviews in much of the British press), it is, perhaps, surprising that it was not released on video for some 10 years - and then only after a campaign of gentle pestering by Benson/Tilling fans (including The Tilling Society); prior to the official release, fans had to make do with home video recordings.
The series was issued on DVD (by VCI/Granada) as a 4 disc box set, but these were discontinued and so, until now, fans who wanted to watch the shows had to make do, if they had a multi region DVD player, with the rather expensive Region 1 sets, which are still available.
Now, however, Network DVD have stepped into the fray with a brand new Region 2 set of the entire first and second series on three discs.
The Series
What needs to be said about the series itself?  Most Benson fans are more than familiar with it!  For those visitors to this website who are not, here is a summary of the plot:  Mrs Emmeline Lucas aka Lucia (Geraldine McEwan), recently widowed and looking for pastures new, moves to the small coastal town of Tilling, where she is joined by her friend Georgie Pilson (Nigel Hawthorne).  There she meets Miss Elizabeth Mapp (Prunella Scales) who is the queen of social life in Tilling, and who tries to control Lucia socially.  Lucia, no stranger to social climbing, immediately tries to take control of the town herself and thus battle commences!
The series is adapted, reasonably faithfully, from the last three books in the Lucia sextet ("Mapp & Lucia", "Lucia's Progress" and "Trouble for Lucia" and was filmed in Rye (where E.F.Benson lived and worked and which formed the inspiration for Tilling) and the surrounding Sussex countryside. 
Some of the locations are different - for further information on this please visit Alistair Kerr's excellent "Tilling on TV" website!
The cast is excellent; Prunella Scales created the ultimate Mapp and she cannot be bettered!  Some fans did have problems with Geraldine McEwan as Lucia - partly becasue she retained her natural hair colour, rather than using the black hair of the books (somewhat akin to the controversy over the casting of Daniel Craig, with blond hair as James Bond, traditionally black haired!), but this reviewer enjoyed her performance, especially the glares and sardonic smiles and the entirely appropriate overacting in which Lucia does, from time to time, 
indulge.  Nigel Hawthorne is enjoyable as Georgie - it was a marked contrast to the role he was most famous for (that of Sir Humphrey in 
"Yes Minister").
In supporting roles are Denis Lill as Major Benjy, who comes across as a particularly bluff old soldier; Geoffrey Chater as Mr Wyse, who is slightly less formal than in the books but is none the worse for it; Mary Macleod as Diva Plaistow, who captures the dottyness of the character well; Cecily Hobbs as Quaint Irene, who seems right to this reviewer; James Greene as The Padre, who slips between the various accents smoothly and who seems to play a lot more golf and bridge than in the books, but perhaps that is due to his 'Wee Wifie' not appearing in the TV series; and Marion Mathie as Mrs Susan Wise MBE, excellently grand and pompous!
Most of the series, adapted by Gerald Savory and directed by Donald McWhinnie, was shot on location, with only interior scenes recorded in a studio, and this pays off - using the 'real' Tilling gives a sense of authenticity to the show; it helps that Rye is particularly picturesque!
The music, by Jim Parker, is spot on; it sets the scene for what follows well, and is only sparingly used within each episode (usually between scenes).  The VCI/Granada version did have some rather abrupt starts and stops to the music, due mainly to the fact that the series was made for commecial television and, therefore, had to leave space for advertising.  Unfortunately, music for the 'End of Part' breaks started a few seconds beforehand, and in cutting these 'End of Part' sections out, the music suffered.  The Network version doesn't seem to suffer as much - true, there are still some slightly more abrupt cuts and starts, but they do seem to be faded a little more - might be my imagination of course, but it does seem to be the case!
The packaging is slightly better than the VCI/Granada design, which (showing as it did, Georgie in nautical attire and above Mapp and Lucia) suggested some sort of naval drama.. The Network design is more Art Deco in feel, though Georgie does seem to have more prominence, having a larger picture than the other two characters above him (though, as you can see from the pack shot above, both Prunella Scales and Geraldine McEwan do have two pictures each, whereas Nigel Hawthorne only has the one!)
The set is rated PG - not entirely sure about why parental guidence might be needed for a gently biting social comedy, but the official body that classifies these things presumably had their reasons!
Menu1 Menu2
The menus on the discs are straightforward and of a matching design to the cover, showing that this isn't just a repackage of the VCI/Granada set, but a complete redesign.
Left is the opening menu, offering the choice of "Play All", playing all the episodes on the disc, one after the other, or "Episode Selection" which takes you to the menu on the right and from which you can choose which episode you want to watch. (The third disc has four episodes)
No scene selection on the review copy (as there was on the VCI/Granada version) but there are scenes in each episode, so you can 'skip' to the next scene if you wish and it is possible that there will be a scene selection menu in the retail version.  (If there is, an update will be made to this review!)  The scene cuts appear to be different from those in the VCI/Granada version.
VCI1 Network1
The screen format is 4:3 (i.e. normal, non-widescreen, TV).  Image quality seems to be a little brighter than in the VCI/Granada version - the picture on the left is of the opening titles from the VCI/Granada first disc first episode; on the right is the same image from the Network first disc first episode.  (no retouching had been done to these images other than resizing the screengrabs to fit on this page!)
Otherwise, image quality is as you would expect from a TV series of this vintage - indoor scenes (which were shot on video) look slightly 'grainy' on close up (particularly noticeable in the hotel at night scenes in the first episode, where the low lighting conditions look particularly fuzzy), but viewed from a reasonable distance (i.e. the distance from an armchair to the TV set!) is acceptable!  Outdoor scenes are less grainy, and the atmosphere is natural.
Sound Quality is excellent throughout - crisp, clean sound with a reasonable volume.
Network DVD are to be commended for bringing the series back into life on DVD - and at a more affordable price too.  If you haven't already got "Mapp & Lucia", or if you have the series on tape and are looking for something more durable, you could do no better than to buy this new set; if you already have the series on DVD - consider buying a new copy - if for no other reason than you are a completist and must have every different version of everything by E.F.Benson!
Release Date: 10th April 2006
RRP: £24.99
Total Running Time: 500 minutes approximately 
Screen Ratio: 4:3
To Order:
Network DVD website
For a chance to win one of three copies, kindly donated by Network DVD, please Click Here!
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