herald

Sunday 17 December 2017

Fascinating tale behind storyteller

Enidy BBC1, Sunday
Wild Journeys RTE1, Sunday

Enid, a drama starring Helena Bonham Carter as children's author Enid Blyton, begins with her sitting in a BBC radio studio, icily dismissing a plummy interviewer's timid questions about allegations that she doesn't write her own books.

"I am the guardian of my children's morals," she says. "How can I uphold this position if there is the merest hint that I am not all I seem?" As a set-up line paving the way for what we're about to see, this is clever, if a little obvious.

Blyton did indeed write all of her own books: 750 of them over her long career, sometimes churning out 26 a year. Despite being leaden, flatly written and insufferably long-winded, they continue to sell about eight million copies a year, albeit in a revised form, with all the original sexism, xenophobia and dodgy attitudes to the working class either toned down or written out altogether.

The untrustworthy golliwogs of the Noddy stories have disappeared and been replaced by goblins, and offensive expressions like "black as a nigger with soot" excised.

As this enjoyable film, first shown on BBC4 last November but only now making its way onto mainstream BBC1, showed in delicious detail, nothing about Blyton was as it seemed to the outside world. Her fanciful rewriting of her own life, even as it was unfolding, was far more impressive than anything she ever put down on a page.

Traumatised when her father -- a philanderer she later idealised as the perfect dad -- walks out on the family, she subsequently gets out herself at the earliest opportunity and marries Hugh Pollock (Matthew Macfadyean), the first person to show an interest in publishing her work.

But married life proves to be far from idyllic and motherhood even less so. In one desperately poignant scene, we see her sharing cake, jelly and, of course, lashings of ginger beer with a visiting group of adoring young readers, while her own two daughters -- who were grudgingly allowed to spend just one hour a day in her company -- look on longingly from the stairwell.

Blyton was a woman who loved the idea of childhood more than her own children. The first chance she gets, she packs the pair of them, one by one, off to boarding school and embarks on an affair with a married doctor (Denis Lawson).

While husband Hugh, by now drinking heavily, is away commanding the Home Guard during the early days of the war, Blyton files for divorce. She puts the boot in by telling her publisher she wants Hugh sacked, or else she'll take her books elsewhere.

This was a compelling portrait of a bona fide monster, alternately cold-hearted and deranged, and much credit is due to Bonham Carter, who managed to make Blyton loathsome but fascinating.

Wild Journeys is a lovely, home-produced wildlife series, filmed over two years in stunning high definition -- although you don't necessarily need HD to appreciate its visual splendours. Last night's programme (two of three) focused heavily on the migration of barnacle geese from the windswept Inishkea Islands off Mayo to the chilly eastern coast of Greenland.

Regrettably, all this beauty is slightly marred by an absurd, hushed voiceover by actress Ruth McCabe. Some programmes are best enjoyed with subtitles.

TOMORROW: Pat reviews two-part drama Blood and Oil (BBC2)

STACEY'S STARS

Enid ****

Wild Journeys ***

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