A fair wind still blows through a classic tale
‘‘ 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.
Stars turn: The ABC will screen a new version of The Wind in the Willows