Famous Five 90s Style: Five Have a Mystery to Solve

Five have a Mystery Solve is somewhere in the middle of my rankings of the Famous Five stories. Its neither one thing or the other. It signals the end of the series and the downward curve it takes from there. The idea of the hidden treasure on the island has rather been done to death now and the characters are beginning to tire a little.

The TV adaptation is the same. The 1970s version didn’t do Mystery Island becuase of its simularity to other plotlines. I do like the fact that the 1990s production team did take on Mystery Island because its not the easiest to do and make it stand out, which they achieved.

Unfortunately it wasn’t in the best way. Although the script wasn’t too bad, the acting was below par from both Marco Williamson and Paul Child (both of whom I assume had grown out of their roles by this time). Their acting is very over the top, and almost a parody of their original characters. Lines are repeated by Child particularly in the form of “I’m starving” and “He always goes first”, seemingly portraying the fact that Dick hasn’t grown up at all and very much reverts to a younger version of himself which shows the character up when Jemima Rooper’s George is being particularly mature and even Laura Petela’s Anne is finding new ways of breaking through her character barrier.

Speaking directly of Petela and Anne, this is the one book and episode where you really see a change in Anne and her character so significantly it makes you stop and think. When she turns from a ‘mouse’ into a ‘tiger’ during her drenching of Wilfred after his trick on her, not to mention how she handles the bad guys on the island is extraordinary. There is a difference in the story arcs of both these events. In the book Anne soaks Wilfred when she’s left alone with him and he threatens to show her some of his less plesent animals and in the adaptation he just rudely thrusts a white rat under her nose while she is fetching water. Anne clearly makes her mark by calling him a “horrible boy” in the TV episode and stamps her foot at the others when she says “I know you all think I’m a mouse!” to her brothers and cousin. The looks on their faces is brilliant however, one of the better moments.

When she attacks the two bad guys in the episode she manages to trip them up and then starts kicking sand in their face which is a very un-Anne like thing to do, and she gives as good as she gets against two full grown men. They do grab hold of her at one point but she keeps kicking; the disappointing thing is that the boys and George didn’t rush to help her like we’re conditioned to expect from ‘big’ brothers.

The main story humour through the episode due to Christopher Good’s barmy Uncle Quentin who has once again lost some valuable papers. The children are being sent away with someone they don’t know, Mrs Leyman, so that Unce Q can work in peace however like a bull in a china shop he accuses the children of losing his precious papers and tries to take the boys homework as a subsitute.

We see a lovely little domestic scene between Good’s Uncle Quention and Mary Waterhouse’s Aunt Frances where she reprimands him for accusing the children and asks him to phone them and apologise. He does so with bad grace and when she asks him whether he remembers he snaps “Frances the number is 12345, even I can remember that!” and she just sighs and rolls her eyes heavenward looking for strength.

I do think that Waterhouse and Good are two of the best bits of this series and especially this episode as  they have a lot more screen time together than previous episodes.

Overall then the episode isn’t a huge success but is very watchable and enjoyable. I remember as  child I used to watch this back to back on video cassette and love every moment of the mystery. If that doesn’t tell you how much of a cycnic I’ve become I don’t know what will! So what do you think?

Let me know in the comments!


From Left to Right: Paul Child as Dick, Alex Thomas as Wilfred, Marco Williamson as Julian, Jemima Rooper as George and Laura Petela as Anne

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2 Responses to Famous Five 90s Style: Five Have a Mystery to Solve

  1. Francis says:

    Have to agree with your assessment of the book – I never warmed to it as it lacked
    the Enid ‘magic’ of her earlier books. Great review, Stef.


  2. chrissie777 says:

    It’s not one of my favorite FF books, but I have to admit that I was thrilled when 4 or 5 years ago the British 1964 CFF movie “Five have a Mystery to solve” was released on DVD, because I knew about it for decades thanks to Barbara Stoney’s EB biography, but never expected to be able to watch it in my life time.


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