Before I start properly, I want to apologise to everyone because I believe that at the beginning of this series of blogs I said I would review the episodes as they appeared on the collectors’ edition boxed set discs. As some of you may have noticed that hasn’t really happened. An oversight on my part I can assure you. What I shall endeavour to do in the new year is go finish these episodes in order and then go back and review the ones I have missed! I’m really sorry for the oversight and I hope you can forgive me. Anyway, on to Five Go to Billycock Hill.
What I liked
First of all, the fact that the screenplay is written by Gail Renard, who we have established in the past as being a superior screenwriter for the Famous Five episodes we have seen before. Renard has fantastic attention to detail in adapting the novels into screen appropriate. I don’t know if anyone else pays attention to the writers of the episodes, but realistically the ones I’ve seen of Gail Renard’s have pretty much all been smashing adaptations.
The main thing to focus on with this episode (apart from the level of detail included) is the wonderful fact that all our main characters are included in this version. We get Toby, and his little brother Benny with the piglet Curly, who I am sure you all know is a key part of the story. Curly the piglet even obliges us by running away towards the end of the episode. Jeff Thomas, the dashing pilot cousin, makes an early appearance as well, establishing all the make visiting characters within the first five minutes or so.
Overall with all the relevant parts of the story were kept in and the little touches, like the Five all being crammed in one tent when the storm is on its way and all three boys visiting the Butterfly farm to see what’s going on during the evening and almost getting caught. The inclusion of Mrs Janes was a nice touch as well for this episode, because there is a lot of what she says that helps the five put the mystery of the missing planes and pilot together.
The niggly bits
Once again I’m sure this is basic nitpicking, but everyone knows by now I do try and tell you what exactly bugs a true Blyton fan. Unfortunately its the simplest things that come down to the situation the cast and crew had to deal with.
The simplest thing in the books – the Billycock caves. They seem wonderful and magical in the book, each glowing and showing off wonders that as a child I could barely imagine. I had never seen stalagmites or stalactites but I knew what they were the first time I did get to see them, and I knew how to tell the difference (I was a precocious 8 year old!) Anyway this (clearly) valuable life skill is missing from this adaptation (and from the 90s one – even though they had more time). In fact there are no caves whatsoever in the episode; they have been replaced with an old ‘haunted’ house which is not explored at any point before they discover Flight Lieutenant Jeff Thomas in the cellar.
Another sizeable issue with this episode is that young Mr Janes – Mrs Janes’ nasty son – has a particularly small role and only appears in about two scenes and has less of a part in showing the Five that something dodgy is going on. In fact I think you only get to see him for about 2 minutes in full, which probably is about equal to the time you have him present in the book, but its not handled very well.
Second to last nit pick I promise; Uncle Quentin turns up! When doesn’t this man come rushing in to try and look after the children or take them home? I swear Michel Hinz’s Uncle Q turns up in every episode whereas at least Christopher Good’s Uncle Q does at least have a reprieve. I am never sure if this is just so Hinz can deliver a dry “grown-up” line for Dick to flick something funny and witty back at him. At the end of this episode, Hinz says “You better decide who gets that treat.,” or something approximately like that, when the Five, and Toby, are told that they may be able to go up in an RAF fighter jet and Dick’s reply is seriously cheeky and yet, fits in perfectly with Gary Russell’s characterization of Dick.
See? Who else would suggest that the piglet should be allowed the treat of going up in an RAF plane? Only Dick!
My last complaint is the one you get every time – they do not have enough time to include everything! My nitpicking would not be so bad if they had had more time – at least an hour – to go through the adventure properly picking up on all the little bits and pieces seasoned Blytonites like myself know so well! I hope one day we get a chance to have a proper adaption made of our favourite books just so we can make sure all our favourite bits are in them in the correct places! Who agrees?
Hands down, one of the best episodes of the bunch, only let down by the time constraints and the caves or lack of thereof realistically. Superb performances all round from the cast, the visiting members one of the best supporting casts I’ve seen from these episodes.
So, grab what’s left from your Christmas feasts, finish the sherry (or make a cuppa), find the DVD and put it on. Let me know what you think!
All that remains for me to say is: Happy New Year! Hope you’ve all had the best 2016 and I wish you the best for 2017!