The comic exchange of letters between bitter widows has been a Radio 4 highlight for years and that’s where it works best. However, this version did make a success of bringing Lou Wakefield and Carole Hayman’s marvellous material to the screen.
What was good about it?
• Maureen Lipman and Anne Reid are not quite as good at playing protagonists Irene and Vera as Patricia Routledge and Prunella Scales, who took the radio roles. But they are not far behind and nearly equalled the acidic pairing of Scales with Geraldine McEwan in Mapp & Lucia.
• The scene in which the pair met at a wedding reception, doing a dishevelled tango before ending up sozzled (after “a quantity of liquid libation”) beneath a trestle table.
• Adding visuals to the postal toing and froing was achieved well, mixing scenes of the woman writing their latest epistle (while sloshing gin or sherry) with recreations of episodes they were talking about. The most successful example was when “I tried your taramaslata dip on the vicar’s wife. She said she’d never tasted anything like it.” was linked to a scene of the woman vomiting into her handkerchief.
• The wonderful way that bitchiness between the women creeps in beneath a veneer of politeness.
What was bad about it?
• This is unlikely to win new fans to the Irene-Vera saga. But we’re still glad that ITV3 made the effort.
• Viewers who’ve watched too much Victoria Wood over the years may already be bored by references to Petit 4s and irksome neighbours and lines such as “Next doors’ compost heap spontaneously combusted. We’ve had words.”