I was in a Salvation Army shop a few months back looking at some Enid Blyton books that were locked in the display cabinet. A young lady was serving me while I flipped through the stack (muttering the inevitable “got it, got it, got it”) and attempting to to strike up a conversation. I told her something about having a large collection of Enid Blyton books, but I was rather distracted as I usually am when looking at books and was talking to her with my head down. I was still looking down when she asked me if I had seen the movie on Enid Blyton, to which I replied was something along the lines of “rubbish”.
“Ooooh,” she exclaimed, making me look up “I didn’t think she could be that mean!”
I had to smile at her, seeing the relief emanating off her in waves. She has since, any time she has been working when I visit that shop, pointed out when they have new Enid Blyton books. I wonder if she is grateful that someone wiped the slate clean for one of her favourite childhood authors.
This review is really a couple of years late. I first saw the BBC’s movie Enid in 2010. It was not available here and I had to purchase it from eBay, just after it’s release on DVD and I was very excited to see it. I assumed, BBC, one of my favourite authors played by one of my favourite actresses, I should love it. I, in fact, loathed it and it has been shelved ever since that first viewing. It was a brief conversation about the film on Facebook last week that made me dig out my Enid Blyton biographies. Last night, after the books were still fresh in my mind, I watched the film again.
While I was aware that the movie was designed to be less than flattering, I was not prepared for the immensely shallow portrayal of Enid and her family. The disclaimer at the start of the film tells us that “some scenes have been invented and events conflated for the purposes of the narrative”. It has, it seems, taken one or two elements from Barbara Stoney’s Enid Blyton A Biograpy, coupled it with most of the nasty (and none of the good) elements from her daughter Imogen Smallwood’s autobiography, A Childhood at Green Hedges and created a fur-clad, gin-swilling demon-in-red-lipstick.
The Daily Mail crowed that the movie revealed Enid Blyton as a barking-mad adulterous bully, and this probably sums up the research they could be bothered doing.
A serious Enid Blyton fan is not under the illusion that she was a saint. While her second husband Kenneth actually burned the bulk of her personal diaries, what remained to her biographer, Stoney, was carefully documented. It is then, common knowledge that she was deeply affected by her father leaving the family and living with another woman. She married the man she had an affair with while married to Hugh. She treated Hugh abominably after the divorce, tricking him into allowing her to sue him for adultery to protect her image with the promise he would be allowed unlimited access to his daughters, and then cutting him out of their lives. Her youngest daughter Imogen had severe behavioral problems and likely a learning disability which Enid was simply unable to deal with.
None of this, to modern eyes, is particularly remarkable when you only scratch the surface of it. Which is essentially what this movie has done, squeezing a childhood, a 43 year career and two marriages into 83 minutes.
On second viewing I was actually disappointed with Helena Bonham Carter’s portrayal of her. While it can mainly be attributed to the script, she also didn’t manage to capture her look or mannerisms well. There is no real depth to the character. We are afforded a glimpse of the trauma of her parent’s separation, the image of coat-hangers rattling in an empty wardrobe a constant theme throughout the film, and nothing more. We get a snappish, imperious snob who spends most of the movie bullying the servants, her friends, husbands, children and the poor bunnies in the backyard. Once in a while she might give a cry of child-like delight and clap her hands. She does sob once, and even then they don’t manage to prise the ever-present drink out of her hand.
The supporting cast are as one-dimensional as Enid’s character. Hugh Pollock, Enid Blyton’s first husband, had a debilitating drinking problem, and while some of the reasons leading to it were touched lightly upon in a brief conversation (the main reason being post-war traumatic stress) most of the time he is portrayed as a stumbling, jealous oaf. Nor is Kenneth Darrell Waters, her second husband, given much of a character at all. An exploding shell at the Battle of Jutland had impaired the hearing in both of his ears, and he often felt awkward in social situations, not being able to follow conversations easily. He had an awful temper, was fiercely protective of his new family and as Enid’s mind began to deteriorate he was obsessive about keeping it a secret and maintained the deception until he died, a year before Enid. In this movie he has been mainly reduced to the “other man”, a sycophantic and blandly pleasant presence.
This is really a whole lot of nothing. It is too brief, poorly scripted and lacks depth. Glossing over her life and magnifying her misfortunes and shortcomings with gleeful malice it glories in it’s attempt to knock Enid Blyton off her decades-old pedestal.
I am pleased to say it failed spectacularly.