Set in a small town in the 1930s, EF Benson’s much-loved books about feuding socialites Miss Elizabeth Mapp and Mrs Emmeline “Lucia” Lucas are as delectably English as a slice of Victoria sandwich. But when the BBC came to shoot its adaptation – which is set to be one of the highlights of the Christmas schedule – it was forced to look abroad for period garb.
Anna Chancellor, who plays Lucia, explains: “Our French designer said to me [adopts accent], ‘Zere is nothing in London for you, Downton ‘as it all, we ‘ave to go to Paris.’
“So all my costumes came from the Parisian costume houses. We went from place to place on motorbikes, the producer very worried that we might not make it back. In fact, we didn’t – there was a strike and we couldn’t come home!”
Miranda Richardson – who plays Lucia’s landlady and arch-enemy Mapp – also went to unusual lengths for the role. The actress donned a set of false teeth so as to faithfully imitate Mapp’s toothy smile, and even learned to elegantly nibble cucumber sandwiches with them.
“There’s a lot about the teeth [in the books] and I felt mine were inadequate, and so I asked if I could try teeth and I’m so glad I did. It was a little treat at the end of makeup. I’d stick them in at the last thing and go ‘oh, there she is, there she blows.'”
Nor was Steve Pemberton – who adapted the books and plays Lucia’s devoted confidante Georgie Pillson – left out, growing a bushy moustache and dying it brightest ginger, and shaving his head like a 17th century monk.
“I wanted to be very faithful to what Benson had written, so I was willing to go to those lengths. And as the person who’d written it I couldn’t really complain when I had to do that. It was fun to film like that but it wasn’t fun going home at the weekends and seeing my children run in absolute terror.”
Mapp and Lucia will air on BBC1 at Christmas