I think that by far Five on Kirrin Island Again is the most faithful adaptation of the books in the 90s repertoire. Apart from the usual issue of it being a little rushed, the story is pretty much all intact, complete with villains which are not quite as comical as the ones in Five on a Treasure Island or Five Go Adventuring Again for example. In fact they give a very scary and dangerous feeling.
Given that Five on Kirrin Island Again was supposed to be the last Famous Five book that Blyton was to write, it is a fitting tribute that the 90s episode keeps so closely to the story. Obviously there are bit chunks missing, such as a lot of the falling out between George and Dick, and the meal between the Curtons and the Five, and Martin’s hurt ankle. This is clearly down to restraints on time. It is my personal opinion however that this episode would not have been made better by splitting it into two like some other episodes, but could have just done with being more feature length.
The detail is remarkable in a way, they even included the tunnel under the sea from Kirrin Island, which is necessary, but somehow it feels like it was the one thing that might have slipped. Another good feature is that the production team clearly felt that the lighthouse and the lighthouse keeper were important enough to stay in the episode. I mean let’s face it, as avid Blytonites and Famous Fivers, we all would have been a bit miffed if the old chap in the light house wasn’t around!
The only thing I think I have a problem with on the detail front is that the tower that is erected on Kirrin Island doesn’t really remind me of a tower. Its more like a workshop on stilts. Not to mention the fact that I always imagined the tower as tall and silver. There is a scene in the book where Blyton describes how the five had to really struggle to climb the tower and Timmy didn’t like the slippery surface of the stairs. This gave me the impression that it was a very tall tower. Unfortunately, the tower that was chosen for this adaptation has no real impressiveness to it, and its a gaudy shade of red. My inner child doesn’t like this very much.
I think a notable acting credit needs to be pointed towards Christopher Good as Uncle Quentin in this episode. Usually he’s very good, if a little stereotypical in his portrayal of a nutty professor, but in this episode where he has to act serious as the children, his work, Kirrin Island and most of the bay are threatened to be blown up, he shows a remarkable depth to the character. The scene with Jemima Rooper when George finds him prisoner in an underground cave is particularly touching as the two really seem to connect as hot-headed father and daughter with a tenderness that shines through in those odd moments in the books. Its really nice to get an idea of how much Quentin really loves his daughter even though they’re too similar to get along normally.
Other good scenes include the one in the quarry when the Five meet Martin properly for the first time, and the boys aren’t sure how much to trust him with the information about George finding a secret passage. The whole quarry scene is nicely done and its nice to see that it was kept in, given that secret passages seem to mostly change where they are from book to screen.
Overall it’s a very satisfying episode of the bunch, probably the best adapted – there must have been some sentimental value somewhere when they did this one! Maybe it was someone’s first Famous Five? – and that comes through on the screen. Once more Jemima Rooper’s portrayal of George really shines through, and her scenes with Christopher Good are touching and beautifully done as they reveal how much father and daughter really love each other and what an understanding they have deep down.
If you have to watch any of the 90s TV series, and don’t know which one would be the best, I recommend Kirrin Island Again as it stands head and shoulders above the rest in terms of sticking to the story. Why don’t you have a watch and make up your minds and let me know what you think? I promise its 25 minutes well worth it! Go on, spoil yourself!