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Thursday 25 May 2017

Away with the fairies

Helena Bonham Carter is the kind of person you could imagine spending her childhood sitting under apple trees, reading The Famous Five to a clutch of adoring squirrels.

But the English-rose actress says she didn't grow up reading Enid Blyton. "I'm so un-English, even though everyone thinks I'm so English," she says, smiling warmly, dispelling all mawkish illusions about her childhood. "My mum is half French, half Spanish so I was not brought up with all that. Mum never prevented me from doing anything, it's just that we never came across her."

The actress, effortlessly avant garde in a floral and lace puffball dress, with a gold pocket watch dangling on a chain from her neck, is discussing her return to TV in a biopic about the prolific children's author.

"To be absolutely honest, I think my aunts were quite snobby about her books. It had already come to the point where Enid was looked down on by parents, although children loved her. I have lots of friends who were like, 'Oh my God! She saved my childhood'. Alan Rickman, the other day, said he was Julian, and he's not known for his sympathies with conservative England."

Noddy

Bonham Carter came to Blyton when she had her first child Billy, now aged six, with her director partner Tim Burton.

"I'm now reading some Noddy to him and he loves it."

To children all over the world, 43-year-old Bonham Carter is known best for her role as Bellatrix Lestrange in Harry Potter, so it seems apt that she should now be playing one of the world's best-loved children's authors. But the life of Enid Blyton was quite different from the lives the author gave her characters in books such as The Magic Faraway Tree.

"Enid's father left her childhood home when she was 13 and that was the single most formative experience for her," says Bonham Carter. "She couldn't deal with reality very well and her way of coping was writing a different world from the reality that she wanted to escape from.

"And she reinvented herself and her life to the point that if there was anything remotely unpleasant, she wrote a different fact in her head.

"Her dog died and as soon as it was dead, she carried on writing letters from Bobs to fans, so the fans never knew that the dog had ever died. She didn't do death. But conversely, she didn't like her mother, so told people she was dead long before she died."

Based partially on the biography by Blyton's second child, Imogen Smallwood, the one-off film begins with the writer as a young woman, struggling to get her stories published, followed by her romance and marriage to her first editor, Major Hugh Alexander Pollock (Matthew Macfadyen).

Spanning 40 years in her life, it also shows the birth of her daughters Gillian and Imogen and their childhood, the breakdown of her marriage and her second marriage to London surgeon Kenneth Waters (Dennis Lawson).

Neglect

While Blyton adored her young fans, she appeared to neglect her own daughters. After Kenneth moved in, they were sent to boarding school and never saw their father again.

"Central to the children going to boarding school was also the fact that she had found this new relationship, which made her very happy, but she was essentially a child.

"I loved the fact that she was this forever child -- anyone who can keep the child alive within them I have great respect for.

The actress returns to Bellatrix Lestrange in the final instalment of the Harry Potter films. But her son Billy won't be having the books read to him yet.

"It's incredibly long -- a chapter of that and I'd be giving Tim his dinner at 10pm. No, better stick with Noddy."

Enid is on BBC Four next Monday at 9pm

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