TBT: Mapp & Lucia (1985) – 1930s Comedy of Manners


Perhaps I should say, Mapp & Lucia the first, because this is the 1985 adaption of the E. F. Benson novels produced for British TV. Both this and the 2014 edition are easily found on streaming services in the U.S., so it can get confusing. This first one stars Geraldine McEwan as Emmeline Lucas aka Lucia and Prunella Scales as Elizabeth Mapp.

The basic gist of the story is that Lucia is a recently widowed and incredibly snobbish, affected, upper-middle-class lady in a small British town in 1930. She moves to a seaside town and vies for social prominence with Miss Mapp, and hijinx ensue. It’s full of very arch, mannered witticisms and broadly drawn stock characters familiar to British comedy. Sometimes, this can be really funny! Sometimes, less so, but overall it’s pretty watchable.

One thing that is uniformly fantastic is the costumes! Designer Frances Tempest and her team at London Weekend Television did an amazing job of outfitting the principles and extras in a gorgeous array of late 1920s and early 1930s daywear.  Lucia is quite posh, always with a great hat that sets off her sharp bobbed hair, and other ladies, such as the older Mrs. Susan Wyse, also have elegant hats. There’s embroidery and other period-appropriate trims on the gowns and coats. The accessories game is freakisly on-point with parasols, purses, gloves, jewelry, cigarette holders, and every other tiny little accoutrement that fits the period, and I’m just going to bet a lot of the items are vintage because they look so fantastic. Also, it’s great to see beautiful, flattering, historically accurate ’20s-’30s clothes on older women and plus-size women, So if you like this era, watch it for the fashions alone!

Mapp & Lucia (1985)

Checked dress, striped parasol, love it!

Mapp & Lucia (1985)

Lucia is all sass with that cocktail.

Mapp & Lucia (1985)

Referencing the ’20s-’30s chinoiserie trend.

Mapp & Lucia (1985)

Note the coordinating bangles — that’s some next-level accessorizing.

Mapp & Lucia (1985)

This floral hat is worn with the print dress above.

Mapp & Lucia (1985)

While Lucia is the clothes-horse of the show, all the characters wear appropriate period clothes, and Miss Mapp has fine trim on her hat too.

Mapp & Lucia (1985)

But really, Lucia knocks it out of the park.

Mapp & Lucia (1985)

Chic with black and white.

Mapp & Lucia (1985)

My fave is this black outfit with a matching lacy black hat.

Mapp & Lucia (1985)

A great contrast to her foppy companion Georgie!


Have you watched Mapp & Lucia (1985)? Do you like ’30s fashion?


About the author

Trystan L. Bass

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A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

14 Responses

  1. Northcountrygal

    Finally someone mentions this version! Thank you! I remember watching it on PBS in the 1980s and just enjoying it so much. And yes I remember the clothes. Sometimes the 1920s and older women (and now I’m Mapp and Lucia’s age myself) doesn’t work very well, but Geraldine McEwan always looks fantastic and her hats are to die for – so many more styles than just the cloche. When I see a mention of Mapp and Lucia it is always to the more recent one (understandably), but this was the one that actually made me read some of the stories (they are enjoyable too!)

  2. Susan Pola Staples

    I also remember this one, especially the clothes and ‘walker’ George. I tried to find it again but got the modern 2014 version, which I still need to watch.
    What I liked about the ‘original’ was how the plus size Mapp was just as stylish within her income and budget as Lucia. Also George was probably the perfect bff for Lucia.

    • Northcountrygal

      Georgie Pillson was perfect! Played by the incredible Nigel Hawthorne.

  3. India Edghill

    I love the 1985 version almost as much as I love the books, which I re-read at least once a year. They never pall. E.F. Benson actually lived in Tilling — I mean Rye, and Mallards, with its I-want-it-so-much garden room is Lamb House. You can get a lovely view of it via Google maps.

    • MrsC (Maryanne)

      India have you been to Rye? We went and it was so exciting! The house used for Mallards wasn’t Lamb House as it has no street appeal but the books make so much more sense as the property covers the whole elbow of the top of Mermaid St and where the Garden Room was looked directly down it, and at a right angle to the front door so perfect for the peering and spying! Sadly we were there off season so didn’t get to see the garden itself.

  4. Frannie Germeshausen

    I adored this show back in the day. It clearly holds up. I’ll look for it!!!!!

  5. Brandon McKinney

    I frigging love Geraldine McEwan – and this is one series that I’ve wanted to see for a while. Her Mrs. Proudie in “Barchester Chornicles” was so amazingly bitchy and fantastic. Costuming in British TV was just so darn GOOD in this period.

    I’ve been obsessing with another production from the same year as this: “Lady Windermere’s Fan.” With Helena Little and the devastatingly handsome Tim Woodward – beautifully on-point 1891-ish costuming there too.

    • Frannie Germeshausen

      Oh, yes, the Barchester Chronicles. If memory serves, that was the first time I became aware of our beloved Alan Rickman. That voice – swoon. OK, I don’t want to cry at work.

  6. Cheryl Washer

    The 1985 version is available through BritBox streaming. So is the 2014 version, but other than it was able to film at Lamb House (E.F. Benson’s house and “Mallards” in the books), it is inferior in every way. McEwan, Scales and Hawthorne are superb!

  7. MrsC (Maryanne)

    Ah, the motherload of fabulosity. I saw this when it first came out, got a VCR taped from the TV, bought the books and now I own all the books and all the DVDs and not a year goes by where I don’t read and watch at least once. It is my favourite adaptation for screen, but like so often it doesn’t come close to capturing the subtlety of the characterisations in the books. Still my favourite moment is when Diva Plaistow is knocking on Dr Dobbie’s door at the beginning in a purple ensemble with flowers appliqued onto it that is never mentioned -yet in the books preceding Lucia’s arrival in Tilling, Mapp and Diva go to war cutting the flowers out of old curtains and hand appliqueing them onto their clothes. Such a wonderful detail especially for those who have read the books, like a Patreon only post!

  8. Teresa

    The 1985 version was so well cast! I had never heard of the Lucia stories before, although I had read an E.F. Benson ghost story or two. By a fantastic coincidence, this series aired while I was taking my doctoral qualifying exams. It was the perfect way to decompress.

  9. 992234177

    The original is so much better. Love that Georgie is clearly gay and Quaint Irene clearly a lesbian without it being mentioned. Newer version had Miranda Richardson who was excellent and over the top and as good as Prunella but Anna Chancellor wasn’t ridiculous enough, the books are farcical.