In the famed role of Toad from Toad Hall, Lucas’ performance positively swamps this treatment of the classic story by Kenneth Grahame.
But as a bald-headed, rotund amphibian there is nary an actor of note more suitable. He chews up the scenery as Toad, to the point of upstaging those around him.
The direction by Rachel Talalay allows the mostly impressive cast to inhabit animal characters without the reliance on costumery. Instead, Bob Hoskins as Badger, Mark Gattis as Ratty and Lee Ingleby as Mole bring their roles to life via mannerisms, vocal dexterity and an ensemble unity deserving of a travelling theatre troupe.
There is great spirit in this BBC co-production, in a hearty, committed determination to stay true to the story. Like Animal Farm, this fable seeks to comment on British class, but replaces satirical bite with bucolic tomfoolery.
Toad has a ‘need for speed’ from motorcars that lands him at odds with his townsfolk, and ultimately in jail. Quite a price to pay when all you want to do is have a little fun. And fun is Lucas’ middle name.
For all its honesty this production may well alienate children. Lucas borders on the grotesque, camping and cavorting like a Roman emporer without care. As the story’s final chapter allows him to drag up it’s almost a case of art imitating life.
Imelda Staunton as the Barge Lady is one of several who isn’t afforded much to do. Bob Hoskins is suitably gruff as the level-headed Badger.
This is surely fun for grown-up kids looking for a respectful, lavish screen treatment of a fond favourite. Dip your toes in the pond, and the countryside is bound to spring to life.
Wind in the Willows airs 7:30pm Sunday on ABC.