Five on Finniston Farm has to be one of my all time favourite adaptations in this TV series. It is possibly because I watched it when I was younger, and had the video on permanent loan from the library (my mum worked there).
I’ts a strangely compelling adaptation in my nostalgic opinion, and sticks quite closely to the book.
Ironically, one of the only significant deviations from the book is the start of the episode. It starts with a flashback of the castle when it wasn’t in ruins with the lady of the manor trying to hide her children from the angry peasants. This adds a nice historical touch to the episode, giving us an insight to what is going to happen, and what the episode will be exploring.
The rest of the changes are superficial, and really didn’t need to be done, except for the time constraints put on the team for having a 25 minute episode. As we’ve discussed before the 25 minute time limit does no favours for the playing out of Blyton’s compelling stories. One fairly big change is a swapping of surnames; the one remaining Finniston, who was a descendant of the castle has been written out, and the family who own the farm – originally the Philpots – have been given the surname instead. With the writing out a fairly light character, as well as the gossipy woman who runs the cafe, general store and post office (and her equally talkative daughter Janie) we lose some charming interaction. We also miss out on some wonderful facts about macaroons, and how there were 24 on a plate, and the hilarious scenes of Timmy chasing his ice cream around the floor. Once again these are superficial really and anyone who had not read the book wouldn’t know what was lost, but for us aficionados, the loss of these few precious parts cuts deeply.
The Philpots/Finnistons’ old Granddad takes an additional role of an antique dealer (formerly Mr Finniston), and still plays the wonderful role of a grumpy patriarch of the farm. He deals harshly and firmly with the Hennings and his own family up to a point. He takes a shine to Anne and tells her that she is a marvel, helping with all the house work and the cooking. She takes a shine to him and they talk about needing a miracle to save the farm. Walter Sparrow portrayed old Granddad and even though he did a fantastic job, the one thing between him and the book description of Grandad that let it down was the lack of distinctive long white beard. That was a little bit of magic lost for me.
Surprisingly the interaction between the key four was seamless in this episode. I’m sure if I worked it out I could tell you how long they had been together at this point. Marco Williamson’s interpretation of Julian wasn’t over the top in this one and Paul Child had the funny side of Dick down to a T. Jemima Rooper was as marvellous as always playing the perfect George, who has gotten over her jealousy of other tom boys as the Philpot/Finnistons’ only girl, Harriet, was dressed like her twin brother Harry and they couldn’t be told apart. Laura Petela was perfect as Anne, shy and kind, bringing out the best of old Granddad, even though her Anne was too scared to explore the hidden passage that the Five and the Harries discovered.
The Harries unfortunately looked nothing alike, although the book specified quite seriously that even though one was a boy and one was a girl, they looked absolutely alike. I know that realistically that would have been hard to find, but they could have gotten a little closer than Leanne Rowe (someone who causes me major hair envy, and I would love to meet!) and Greg Bradley, whom it appears hasn’t acted since Five on Finniston Farm. They worked well together as the sulky twins but when they started talking to the Five, they had less and less scenes as the original Five took over. Still, I think they did a good job and worked well together, perfecting the feel of the ‘twinniest twins I’ve ever seen’.
I haven’t said a word about our bad guys yet and I suppose I should really move on to that now. Richard Claxton who played the spoilt American, Junior, was really quite brilliant at being annoying and whiny as Junior is supposed to be. He wasn’t brilliant at sneaking up on the Five and the twins but I suspect that it was more for camera’s benefit than those of us who know the story. Peter Banks as Mr Henning is bumbling and bluffing enough but in fact it was one of those roles that could have done with a bit more being thrown at you. Saying that, he wasn’t playing the overtly comic villain which is why this episode has another point for it, the villains have more of a ruthless streak and are more believeable as tricksters and villains. Lastly we have Robin Hooper as Mr Durleston, who is perfect for the greedy, underhanded antiques dealer, although not quite the wilting flower we have in the books. Again, there is little over acting here which helps make him believable as a horrid person out for all he can get.
I’m sure you can now see why this episode comes together as one of my favourites. Its true to the story as far as 25 minutes can allow and the characters are played almost perfectly, and the villains are not our usual standard of comedic bumbling fools. We don’t see this villainy again until Five Have a Mystery to Solve and get stuck on Whispering Island.
I suggest you see this episode if you haven’t already (it can be found on YouTube) and let me know what you think!