Good Golly! BBC Blyton Biopic Bares All

Posted on April 8, 2010

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All together now: “Julian, Dick and Anne,

George and Timmy the dog!”

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No, I haven’t lost my mind or been transported back in time for that matter, though the latter is certainly a recurring theme for this coming Easter Weekend as we at Telly Thursday will witness the return of both Ashes to Ashes and Doctor Who. For now though, we fancy regurgitating a bit of our childhood, by taking a look at Enid, the biopic of popular children’s writer Enid Blyton. Lord knows my childhood was spent re-enacting scenes from Famous Five books. We never had a cool sheepdog though; the closest I got was a Jack Russell who robbed your dinner off your plate if you weren’t looking…

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Originally aired on BBC4, my first surprise was the casting of Helena Bonham Carter. In hindsight, having seen the programme, you couldn’t have picked anyone else to play the role and really I should have known one of my favourite authors as a child was going to be ruined for me forever. But I can’t remember the last time Carter actually took a TV role which made me curious as to why this?

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The programme opens with our author defending herself against accusations that her work was not her own, an idea which is quite a ripe topic at the moment when you consider all of the fiasco going on with Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. From there, we are told in flashback of Enid’s life up to that point – the abandonment by a father whom she adored; her frosty relationship with her mother and the meeting with her first husband Hugh Pollock (played remarkably well by Matthew Macfadyen [or Mr Keeley Hawes, as I like to refer to him, only because I find his wife more attractive than him…]). From there on, we follow Enid through her successes and woes, a World War and a second husband, flanked all the while by her own browbeaten children who seem less important to her than her children fans.

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The thing about Enid Blyton is that she really was not a nice person. From the moment she signs her first contract, an audience starts to feel uncomfortable watching her. When her own kids come on the scene, there is one extraordinary scene when, though it is the child that is crying, Enid picks up the dog and lets the nanny worry about the baby. There are some really incomprehensible scenes of coldness, particularly between Blyton and husband Hugh Pollock.

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The whole show is acted fantastically, though that’s almost a given when you sit down to watch anything from the BBC. It’s nice to see Bonham Carter in a role not tailor made for her by her husband. It gives her the chance to stretch her acting chops and she really is a compelling Blyton, revelling in her moments of happiness but similarly displaying a frank coldness that, were I one of her children, I certainly wouldn’t have messed with her.

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It’s all so bleak though. Blyton is really portrayed as the mother of all, rip roaring wagons and I have to wonder if it’s entirely accurate. The show was made in cooperation with Blyton’s remaining daughter but it is very negative. By the end of the show, I was left feeling utterly depressed that my favourite series as a child had been ruined for me, because there’s no moment in the show when Blyton displays any kind of redeeming feature. There’s simply black or white and Blyton is portrayed as black. As the credits roll, you can’t help thinking that there has to have been more to the story than what we’re shown.

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It’s hard really to draw a conclusion on the show. Suffice to say, the production values are excellent, after all ‘BBC’ and ‘Period Drama’ are kind of like ‘Bacardi’ and ‘Coke’ – they just work well together. The narrative too stumbles its way along through the highs and lows of Blyton’s life. It’s hard to say that it’s enjoyable, but it is impressively done, even if those of us who were fans don’t want to know the bitter realities.

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They say you should never meet your icons, it appears that they shouldn’t let TV companies do a biopic of them either.

Posted in: Reviews