A fair wind still blows through a clas­sic tale

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

‘‘ I HATE spring clean­ing! I’m sick of it.’’ With th­ese im­mor­tal words, spo­ken by Lee In­gleby as Mole, yet an­other tele­vi­sual adap­ta­tion of Ken­neth Gra­hame’s en­dur­ing chil­dren’s book The Wind in the Wil­lows is un­der way.

In­gelby is a treat as Mole, dis­tin­guished from the other Thames- side crea­tures by his York­shire ac­cent and tem­per­a­ment, pros­thetic fea­tures — a lovely, turned up, mole- ish nose, with which he can smell his own home from miles away — and claws: real earth- paw­ing, bum- scratch­ing, dirt- dig­ging claws. Un­less you count Bad­ger’s eye­brows, worn by Bob Hoskins as promi­nently as John Howard’s be­fore the me­dia man­agers took to his with in­dus­trial shears.

Mole’s first act of sen­sual sniff­ing is a joy. ‘‘ Fresh air,’’ he sighs, with the kind of savour­ing, slaver­ing de­light one might ex­press over newly ground cof­fee, or the finest red wine.

Mole, of course, doesn’t get out much. But all that is about to change when he makes the ac­quain­tance of one Mis­ter Rat ( Mark Gatiss), a river rat, who takes a shine to the still­blink­ing Mole, of­fer­ing him a boat ride. If you look very care­fully, Rat has a sin­gle long whisker stretch­ing out from each side of his rather neat mous­tache, more like aber­rant hairs than pros­thet­ics, which Gatiss com­ple­ments with a ratty lit­tle grin.

As they glide down­stream, you can feel an­other im­mor­tal line com­ing on. Gatiss seems to savour it, as well he should, de­liv­er­ing it as if it were the most im­por­tant ob­ser­va­tion the world has yet known: ‘‘ Be­lieve me, my friend, there is noth­ing, ab­so­lutely noth­ing half so much worth do­ing as sim­ply mess­ing about in boats.’’

All this, and we are but five min­utes in to The Wind in the Wil­lows. We’ve yet to meet Hoskins as the tac­i­turn, and some­times iras­ci­ble bad­ger.

Rather than pros­thet­ics, apart from those eye­brows, Hoskins re­lies on a low, grunt­ing sound in ev­ery­day speech that Marge Simp­son might envy, to con­vey his bad­ger­ness.

But first, we must meet the star of the show, and of this lit­tle menagerie of an­thro­po­mor­phised crea­tures: Matt Lu­cas in a pan­tomime- style tour de force as Toad, of Toad Hall.

Lu­cas’s shall we say fuller fig­ure lends it­self so well to the shape of Mr Toad that again, no pros­thet­ics are re­quired. With most of the cru­elty of his Lit­tle Bri­tain char­ac­ters ex­cised only to be re­placed with Toad’s thought­less im­pul­sive­ness, Lu­cas strikes ex­actly the right note, mak­ing, as you might imag­ine, a meal of the char­ac­ter’s up­per- class twit­ness, clearly rel­ish­ing his turn as Toad pass­ing for a wash­er­woman.

An un­miss­able hol­i­day TV trea­sure for the gen­er­a­tions.

Ian Cuth­bert­son

Stars turn: The ABC will screen a new ver­sion of The Wind in the Wil­lows

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