Malory Towers on TV – Episodes one and two

I’ve heard positive things from anyone who’s managed to watch it before me, so I have my fingers crossed that this will be a positive review (a rare thing here, sometimes it seems!). I could also do with some cheering up seeing as we’ve just entered a state of ‘lockdown’, so escaping to Malory Towers is just what I need.

A general non-spoiler review

I’ll start with an overview of what I thought for those who haven’t seen it yet, and then I’ll talk in more detail about some of the plots so avoid the rest if you don’t want any spoilers.

Overall I thought the first two episodes were very good. I was pleasantly surprised, in fact.

As we already knew, it is set in the 1940s and the war is briefly referenced. This was absolutely the right choice – it’s always the right choice to me, which is why I think the 90s Famous Five is superior to the flared 70s version.

The building posing as Malory Towers looks very much like the illustrations in the book, and the outdoor pool looked magnificent. The indoor sets looked good as well, as did the costumes, and the language used is a good mix of old-fashioned quaint sayings as well as clear language that modern child viewers will understand.

So far it has stayed fairly close to the book; the main plots being Darrell’s friendship with Alicia and her disagreements with Gwen. Miss Grayling’s speech featured and although it was not word for word from the text, and in fact is rather shorter it quoted a few important phrases and was well-delivered.

Exams aren’t our only measure of success. A Malory Towers’ success is someone good hearted and kind, loyal and trustworthy, good sound women the world can lean on.Women unafraid to forge a new future. You will all gain tremendously from your time with us. See that you give a lot back.

Matron features several times and is suitable strict and a figure to be feared at times yet kind-hearted at others. She takes an instant dislike to Darrell and I think she will be on her case a lot.

The girls themselves are a more diverse bunch than Blyton wrote, and so far all the acting has been good.

From left to right (not including the girl with pigtails talking to the teacher) we have Darrell, Alicia, Sally, Gwen and Mary-Lou.

What happens in episode one

Episode one sees Darrell heading to Malory Towers for a ‘fresh start’ – this detail will be relevant later. She instantly makes friends with Alicia while Gwen sets off on the wrong foot by being a tell-tale and being difficult.

Alicia apparently loves a ghost story and tells them about about the ghost of Malory Towers, Gwen is completely sucked in but Darrell is not a believer. The girls have a midnight feast, but Gwen is not invited which causes a rift between her and Darrell, though Darrell doesn’t know that.

Gwen reads a letter Darrell has started writing home and is upset that she has named Alicia as the friend she has made. She confronts Darrell by the pool, they fight and she falls in. She uses this to blackmail Darrell – she will tell Miss Grayling that she was pushed into the pool and get Darrell expelled unless Darrell does her French prep.

Darrell does this initially but then tells Miss Grayling the truth to get it off her chest. We then discover that Darrell is the girl who’s rumoured to have been asked to leave St Hilda’s school.

What happens in episode two

Alicia steps up her ghost tales and leaves a spooky message on the mirror for Gwen. Darrell and Gwen’s gym shoes go missing right before lacrosse try-outs so that neither of them can take part, though Darrell is offered the role as a substitute. Sally Hope makes the team, and she tells Darrell emphatically that she doesn’t have a baby sister.

During an exam Darrell’s pen leaks and blots and in trying to write a few more lines she knocks her ink all over the page. She then gets to do the exam over, which Gwen makes a big deal of and calls her a cheat. Gwen then begins a campaign to find out why Darrell had to leave her last school.

This culminates in her going down to the village late in the afternoon (alone, against the rules) to telephone her cousin who went to St Hilda’s.

Darrell, despite her problems with Gwen, insists on going to fetch her and the rest of their dorm have to distract Matron so she doesn’t realise they are missing. Darrell finds Gwen who tricks her into admitting she was in fact asked to leave St Hilda’s, but we don’t find out why.

Some more thoughts

I jotted down lots of little things as I watched so here are some of them.

Darrell’s character is a little different from the book. She is rushing, late for the train at the start, she is shown as being clumsy and a bit careless even and she is not good at spelling. I suppose this gives her room to grow, however. I’m not sure at all about the story of her being asked to leave her last school. It’s such a departure from the story we know, but it will presumably give a plot line that will run through most of the first series as we wait to find out what happened.

Alicia is also a bit different. Alicia in the book is a joker, but she is also very very sharp-tongued and unkind at times. We don’t hear her ‘smooth voice’ or sharp tongue, really. Just all the spooky ghost stuff. She’s also got a Canadian accent which takes some getting used to.

The pool incident is a trifle disappointing as it really looks like an accident that Gwen fell in. They are both tugging on an end of Darrell’s letter and she just falls in. Darrell does not push her in a rage, but she instantly apologies in absolute horror. I suspect book Darrell might have pushed her in anger – even if she didn’t mean her to land in the pool – and would have needed a little time to cool off before apologising. She also would have been more dignified in her apology rather than over the top.

Also, Gwen swims out of the pool without any real fuss – not the water-hating Gwen we all know!

The midnight feast was a nice touch but the girls make a hell of a noise ‘sneaking’ out for it.

I do think that Matron is pretty great but she entirely over-reacts to a mouse in the dorm (I’m sure children would have thought that bit hilarious, but I found it over the top) and although clever and funny it seems unbelievable that she wouldn’t notice two girls missing from the dorm especially when she’s said several times that she’s marked Darrell as a trouble-maker and will be keeping an eye on her.

Miss Potts is very good, there is one scene in particular where she shines. She praises Darrell for a good essay and when Gwen asks how hers was, she clearly struggles to be tactful. Her facial expressions were wonderful.

I like Miss Grayling though she seemed a fair bit younger than I would have imagined. She was still very poised, kind but firm, and I liked the little hint we got that she had lost someone in the war.

Gwen and her mother saying goodbye was another scene that was probably over the top – it almost seemed like they were acting at being so upset but I actually enjoyed it and thought it quite funny.

Gwen is probably one of the best things about this adaptation, though Darrell, Matron, Miss Potts and Miss Grayling were all good.

There are some nice details such as Pamela featuring as head of games, and Emily sewing a tear in Darrell’s dress which tells me that the people making this really, really read the books and are trying to recreate as much of the world of Malory Towers as they can.

What’s next?

I expect we will see a bit more of Sally soon, to deepen that mystery, and as I said above I suspect they will draw out the mystery of Darrell’s last school for a while along with a campaign from Gwen against her. I’m not sure about the pool slapping, that may already have been replaced with the ‘push’, but we might get some more lacrosse and I’d like to see a bit more of Irene as so far she’s been very much in the background.

It’s a lovely change for me to heartily recommend an adaptation of Blyton’s books, but I really do. If you have access to the BBC iPlayer you should definitely watch this.

Next post: Malory Towers on TV – episodes three and four

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18 Responses to Malory Towers on TV – Episodes one and two

  1. Thanks for your analysis! I was actually saying to someone else how much I enjoy DETAILED analysis of the books I read as a kid (this was in a Trixie Belden group), and I forgot to mention your site-I always like reading it. I can’t get the TV show here, but whenever it does become available, I’ll watch it. I don’t mind adding other races, but I am glad they didn’t change too much else (like making the girls too 21st century) Perhaps I’ll enjoy this after all!

    One thing I must say though-I actually liked the 70s Famous Five show over the 90s despite the update in time of the 70s show. But it might be the nostalgia factor of my childhood (I was already in my 20s when the 90s show came out)


    • fiona says:

      Childhood nostalgia is a powerful thing. Children today might well grow up with the TV series cast as their mental picture of the girls especially given how so many of the latest reprints are not illustrated.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s true. Also, I thought the girl who played Anne (in the 70s) was VERY pretty. By the 90s, I was already an adult.

        I mean I liked the show for more than just that, but it is odd how stuff like that sticks with you. Out of all the UK television I watched in the early 80s (that’s when The Famous Five came over here), I thought Anne was pretty, and I thought the first girl who played “Edison” in Supergran was pretty. That’s a large factor as a kid!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. jillslawit says:

    Fab, iplayer I was going to ask where this can be seen. I don’t have a TV so can watch on PC.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Ellie says:

    We’re enjoying it too! I’ve been racking my brains as to why the “expelled from St Hilda’s” storyline is so familiar, and I think I’ve got it – Margery Fenworthy in The O’Sullivan Twins had been expelled from St Hilda’s (and other schools) before going to St Clare’s for a fresh start where nobody knew her history. So although it’s not authentic Malory Towers it is to some extent authentic Enid Blyton!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Padré says:

    Good review Fiona, thank you. I will certainly want to watch this. I can’t access the BBC iPlayer in Ireland 😦 but I do get the British TV channels so I will watch it on CBBC, starting 6 April 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Lapsed Blyton fan says:

    I came to this series late, but actually found it very watchable. I felt it kept the Blyton elements that work but made the characters more complex and real. This is a good set of recaps and the only episode by episode discussion I’ve found, so I’ll put in a few thoughts here if that’s OK.

    I think the biggest change overall that the series made from the book was to shift the core plot arc from Darrell’s dilemma over whether to be best friends with Alicia or with Sally and Mary Lou, and make it about the complicated relationship between Darrell and Gwen. So these first two episodes do a lot to set that up.

    I do think the limitations of TV production mean one has to accept some cut corners: that Malory Towers has few students and even fewer staff, that it’s not that dark in the night scenes and that people have secret conversations at normal volume. Regarding the fall in the pool specifically, the rules on what stunts children can do are extremely strict. (In the 80s there was a tragic accident when filming a helicopter chase, after that they were tightened to allow almost nothing.) The fall was real and it was Danya Griver not a double, but they had to do it in a controlled way not have her actually shoved in. I think the audience has to accept from the reactions that Darrell did push her!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fiona says:

      I enjoy reading others’ thoughts on the episodes (or anything else I write about) so please comment away!

      I hadn’t considered the H&S implications during filming, but that does make sense. I think children’s TV programmes are well known for not being dark at night (except for some of the 70s Famous Five episodes which used dark filters on the camera making it so dark at times you couldn’t see what was happening!) and for also having a lack of background characters (then again, the same could be said for soaps – Neighbours only ever had one or two doctors for a huge city hospital, and they were GPs, surgeons and everything else rolled into one…) I just always notice these things and if I notice then I have to mention it. On the whole these things don’t really detract from the quality of the series.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Millie says:

      It would have been filmed during covid…


      • Fiona says:

        No, the first series was filmed well before covid. It was released shortly after lock down began in the UK.


        • Millie says:

          The Second and Third series will have been and that might explain why they kept that cast to the minimum. Matron teaching lacrosse, and the disappearance of Miss Potts.


  6. Richard McGee says:

    This series was the first Blyton adaptation I watched and I was looking forward to it. I was not disappointed. I really enjoyed it and although it did not stick entirely to the book I thought it was close enough to warrant five stars in my book. The casting was excellent, Mary-Lou especially, and the acting was top class. It did give me the impression that the script writers and producers had read the books and knew what they were doing. I then viewed the New Zealand Adventure and Secret adaptations and felt they were a load of rubbish in comparison, so I hope for a few more series of Malory Towers from the same company to revive my enthusiasm for Blyton adaptations.


  7. Anonymous says:

    Great, can’t wait. Ive read the books 3 or five times and watched the series twice


  8. Anonymous says:

    I enjoyed the first term very much. I loved the MT books as a child although I didn’t relate to Darrell
    as I never enjoyed team games. I don’t think they would have played lacrosse in the summer term though, and the tennis net would not havebeen left like that. You had to loosen it by turning a handle on the post, then draping the net over the top, to stop it snapping and rotting on the ground after it rained. Good to see that some of the tennnis raquets at least were kept in presses.


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