So far I’ve enjoyed this series with its period setting and excellent acting, though at times it deviates quite a bit from the book.
We have reached the part of the story where it is half-term and the girls’ parents come to visit the school. In the episode it’s just called an open day, though.
In the book, the story focuses on Darrell not having a special friend to invite, and then her altercation with Sally.
This episode covers Darrell not having a friend really well. Alicia was going to go with her, but then changes her mind last-minute as Betty has invited her. The Alicia of the TV series isn’t as sharp-tongued and cruel as the one of the books but she manages to be quite unkind still (and as these two episodes progress I think Darrell realises that Alicia is fun but not a good friend).
As in the book Darrell invites Mary-Lou, but Gwen has got there first (but on TV, Gwen asks deliberately to spite Darrell who she knows was going to ask Mary-Lou,), and Mary-Lou doesn’t feel like she can go back on her agreement with Gwen. Somehow I find Mary-Lou more spineless on TV than I remember her being in the books, but it has been a while since I read them.
In a fabrication for the show Darrell talks to Sally about it all and then asks her when she finds out that Sally’s parents have cancelled last-minute. (In the book she simply asks her outright.) Sally is understandably a bit miffed to be such a last choice and refuses. In the end Darrell asks Emily (same as in the books) and she goes along.
TV Emily is a bit more of a character, as in the books she’s only mentioned when it has something to do with sewing and she chats away to Mrs Rivers about embroidery and so on during the picnic. In this episode she doesn’t mention sewing (though has been seen as skilled at it before) but rather we get more hints that she isn’t all she seems. She tells the Riverses that her mother is a nurse but can’t remember where she works (and is a bit flustered about being asked.) I’m starting to wonder if they haven’t lifted a plot from another St Clare’s book and she’s going to turn out to be the daughter of one of the school staff with a free place there. (In episode 8 she refuses to recount her seeing of the ghost from the previous episode when a painting falls off the wall, and I suspect she might have been sneaking down to visit her mother, but we will see!).
Anyway, another open-day plot is Gwen and her mother. Gwen is stuffing her up with all sorts of tales about how great she is at lacrosse and maths and English and everything else. Mary-Lou’s reactions are very comical but unfortunately she doesn’t do what we all want her to do which is SAY SOMETHING! Somehow Gwen’s lies seem even more ludicrous on-screen. They also seem stupid as Gwen knows that the results of the exam she has in an envelope to give her mother are terrible as Alicia steamed them open earlier so she could peek. Even if she tries to not hand them over surely she knows her mother will find out sooner of later? There’s a world of difference between failing everything (not sure what the results were but they can’t have been good) and saying you’re doing OK, and failing while pretending to be top of every class.
To be honest Darrell isn’t much better. She didn’t steam her envelope so she doesn’t know how bad – or good – her results are, but she avoids handing them over and she outright lies to her parents about leaving the envelope in her dorm room, an absolute no-no for any decent Blyton character. She does, at least, own up in the end – before her father has a chat with Miss Grayling as all new pupils’ parents do (including Mrs Lacey.)
If you assume a 50% pass mark then Darrell has failed two classes out of seven, but I imagine she was expecting to pass them all, and pass them well.
Her parents are truly great in that scene and I actually got teary as they reassured her. Gwen’s mother, though, more or less storms off to her chauffeur-driven car after a scathing remark to Gwen. I like how they showed the difference between the two girls’ lives and probably made children watching think about why Gwen is the way she is.
The upshot for Darrell is that she isn’t to sit beside Alicia any more and can’t play lacrosse either. In the book Darrell gets the results just before half-term and they’re read out, she’s tenth from last out of around thirty girls. She goes to see Miss Potts and they discuss how she can’t do well at school work and play the fool as Alicia does, and it’s a positive learning moment for Darrell who resolves to do better without the adults deciding to ban her from things. Anyway, she volunteers for remedial coaching (which she wouldn’t need in the book, just to work harder) instead of giving up lacrosse.
There is a side-plot about Sally, but it’s really just a brief moment. As in the books Mrs Rivers calls out to Sally who ignores her, and she tells Darrell again that Sally definitely has a sister.
We end on the heart-warming notion that Darrell may not have a ‘special friend’ as her mother is so keen to see, but she is well-loved by everyone in her form except Sally and Gwen. This isn’t said aloud or spelled out but rather nicely shown by the girls’ behaviour together.
I have been waiting for this for a while – ever since Sally was ill a few episodes ago. I suppose they were foreshadowing this, and they’ve decided to give this story almost a whole episode to itself.
In the book Darrell finds Sally playing the piano after the half-term visit, they row, and she pushes her. Later, Mary-Lou finds Sally in great pain on her bed in the dormy and sends for Matron. Darrell’s terribly worried it’s all her fault especially when she hears that Sally didn’t eat anything during the day so it can’t be overindulgence. She sneaks down in the night to get some fresh air and runs into her father who’s there to operate on Sally.
Now for the TV version!
Sally drops a photograph of her sister while dancing, and Darrell picks it up and returns it to her. She then finds it in the bin and then tries to return it again, assuming Sally binned it in error. She finds Sally at a piano but she’s not playing just mashing the keys angrily. (In the book she plays louder to down Darrell out, but is actually playing it seems.) They still row and the wording is reasonably similar – about Darrell’s mother being a busy-body – and Darrell does push Sally, though less violently than it is described. In the book she is described as flinging her across the room where she falls over a chair. On screen she pushes her and she falls stomach first onto the piano stool.
It is then Darrell who finds Sally in pain – in the bathroom – and has to work hard to persuade her to go down to the san.
Matron does not shine here. We’ve seen that she has it in for Darrell and likes to steal the girls’ confiscated tuck etc but she’s truly awful in this episode.
She’s all done up to go out to the pictures and is annoyed that Sally has obviously eaten too much at the open day. She’s not at all sympathetic and bans Margaret – her assistant – from calling a doctor as she’s ‘too soft’ on the girls. She doesn’t give Darrell a chance to explain about the push or not having eaten anything.
Darrell clearly has a thing for heading out in the night as after calling her father’s hotel and leaving a message for him to call her back she goes out and intends to walk the 10 miles to Truro in the dark to fetch him. Meanwhile he’s called the school and spoken to Miss Potts, and as they can’t find an available doctor anywhere else, he gets in his car and conveniently spots Darrell even though she tries to hide from the headlights.
Back at the school he operates on Sally – and Matron faints – and everything turns out all right except that Matron doesn’t get her comeuppance for not listening to Darrell, for trying to prevent a doctor being called or for swanning off to the cinema, all of which endangered Sally’s life.
Various things of note
We get some more references to war time in these episodes. Cold chicken and pickles (the same as the Riverses brought in the book) are mentioned as being worth two weeks’ rations and Miss Grayling is away the days following the open day as she is visiting her brother who has shell shock.
It was interesting to see Mrs Rivers, Mr Rivers and Mrs Lacey better. All three are younger than I imagine and more glamorous. Mrs Lacey looks a bit like a present-day woman who dresses in a 40s style, though. Something about her eyebrows just seem wrong for the period. And Mrs Rivers has a cane for some reason. Mr Rivers has some great dialogue but he’s much softer and more gentle than I imagine. Mr Rivers of the books is very kind but can also be impatient and irritable. I can believe the Mr Rivers of the books has given Darrell his temper, but less so the one on screen.
Mr and Mrs Rivers are shown to be great parents, though, and contrast well with Mrs Lacey. Strangely, Gwen’s governess doesn’t come but Darrell’s sister does. She calls Felicity Fee which seems wrong to me as that’s what I’m often called, while we call Felicity Fliss for short.
In other strangeness, Mam’zelle Rougier is teaching the girls to waltz at the start of the episode, it’s probably so they didn’t have to pay a different actress as a teacher, and why Miss Potts presides over sewing class, but why not just omit the dancing that isn’t in the book anyway?
It also makes little sense for each girl to have a results envelope, girls whose parents come to the open day get to hand them over themselves, and those whose parents aren’t coming have their envelopes posted to their homes. It seems unfair for some girls to have to wait for their parents to get the results then send a letter back with them, whilst others have them right away. Given that at least three girls have last-minute changes to their parents coming/not coming it seems a clumsy system as well.
Somehow the things that work well in the book can sometimes look silly on screen. Darrell’s father operating isn’t described in the book but it is partially shown on screen and it made it less believable for me.
And lastly I’m getting a little tired of Darrell having an explosive temper any time it can get her into trouble, but when she’s in a situation when she needs to speak up she clams up instead.
Despite the various niggles I’m feeling as the series goes on, it’s still very good. The acting is first rate and there are no completely stupid plots or scenes.