Malory Towers went on the iPlayer very early in the lock down, so early April and here I am just getting to episodes nine and ten (of thirteen). I know a lot of people binged it but I watch two episodes and make notes, then it takes me a few days to turn those notes into a review. If I watched more than two I’d forget even more than I already do – I already frequently have to re watch bits and pieces to get the details. Then I go through for screen grabs to add, so it’s not a quick process. And as I said on Monday I’ve got so many ideas I have to alternate them.
Anyway, previous reviews are below:
This episode opens with more ghostly goings-on. Sally’s still in the san and she sees a figure in a dark cloak cross the room and go through a door. Yet in the morning Margaret and Matron reveal that the door is just a cupboard and is devoid of any figures ghostly or otherwise. Sally insists she saw the person and that they never came out again. As the viewers saw the (presumably real) person too, I’m intrigued as to where they disappeared to.
The main story line of the episode then revolves around Sally and her future at Malory Towers.
Her parents intend for her to go home and not return to the school. Naturally Darrell thinks it’s all her fault as she interfered and wrote a letter to Mrs Hope telling her how unhappy Sally was, and she goes to see Sally. Sally is pretty annoyed that Darrell wrote, and admits she does have a sister. She reveals that she was sent to boarding school the day her mother and sister came home from the hospital and that they don’t want her at home. However she also says that she doesn’t want to go home because she loves Malory Towers.
In fact she wants to stay so badly that she runs off to hide with the intention that her parents can’t take her home if they can’t find her.
Matron carries on being absolutely awful and instead of informing Miss Potts who seems to be in charge during Miss Grayling’s absence she has the other first formers search for Sally. Alicia and Katherine find Gwen loitering about with something in her hands, at first I thought it was perhaps Darrell’s work book taken from Pamela’s desk, but it could be a magazine. She’s certainly hiding but I couldn’t work out the significance.
Anyway, Mrs Hope arrives and still nobody apart from Matron and a few girls know that Sally’s missing until Irene puts her foot in it, in a rather funny farcical conversation with Miss Potts.
Darrell finds Sally who is hiding… down by her bed in her dorm. Mrs Hope and Miss Potts then come to the dorm and the girls hide under Sally’s bed. They then listen to the conversation where Mrs Hope admits that she was very ill after the birth and wanted Sally to go to school so that she didn’t get stuck being a carer. This is a bit kinder than in the book where Mrs Hope admits that when Sally became withdrawn and difficult after her sister was born that they sent her away to make things easier!
They have a touching reunion and Sally declares she wants to stay.
The second plot is an advancement on Darrell’s reading/writing problems.
In remedial she says the text is jumping over the page and uses that as an excuse to see Matron (and Sally) as above. Pamela discovers that Darrell writes everything out twice, a rough draft then a tidier second version. Darrell says she’s just “slow” and has always been that way but Miss Potts says she may have ‘word blindness’ – which we now call dyslexia. The term dyslexia has been around almost as long as word blindness (both date from the late 1800s), but it seems likely that the less medical term of word blindness would have been used in this scenario – it was still heavily used by scientists as late as the mid 1920s at least. (Here’s an interesting history of the discovery of dyslexia and some of the work that went into understanding the condition, which includes a little information on the word blindness v dyslexia).
I still think that it would have been better for another girl to have dyslexia, rather than Darrell who is known for her skill as a writer. I know that dyslexia doesn’t affect someone’s ability to create ideas and stories, but in the books she’s a skilful writer in all respects. Saying that it does show how much resilience and fortitude she has, doing all that extra work and covering up how much she struggles.
The third plot is about Pamela and Gwen and sets us up for the next episode. We suddenly discover that Malory Towers has monitors – but they are not the monitors we know from the Naughtiest Girl books. It’s more like the St Clare’s books where the younger girls are expected to wait on the higher forms. In St Clare’s it isn’t well explained but it seems as if there is a rough sort of rota whereby the girls take it turns to wait on the upper forms.
The only monitor we know of at Malory Towers is Sally, who waits on Pamela. With Sally supposed to be going home Miss Potts asks for a volunteer to replace her as monitor and Gwen eagerly volunteers. Now we know that Gwen is only ever out for herself and it seems she has volunteered at least partly because Mary-Lou says that Darrell would love to be a monitor, but isn’t there to put herself forward.
Surprisingly Miss Potts agrees and Gwen begins her new role and is immediately useless. I’m sure in St Clare’s there’s a minor story where one of the younger girls is deliberately terrible (spreading boot polish on toast for example) to get out of the chores, but Gwen is genuinely hopeless. She obviously isn’t pleased at being asked to make cocoa (perhaps she saw herself as more of a companion than a maid) and has to admit she doesn’t know how to make cocoa. We get a tiny glimpse at a not-so-awful Gwen as she says she didn’t want to admit she couldn’t do it.
The episode ends with the ghost again as Darrell finds the cloak – proving it is indeed a real person.
I don’t think there is a single thing in this episode from the books and that’s why it is the weakest one so far.
It’s called “The Dress” and that’s what it revolves around. There is a debutante in the sixth form about to be, well, debuted. (I can’t help but think that Miss Grayling would not hold with such nonsense in her school!)
Gwen has obviously learned from the St Clare’s story line and brings Pamela burnt toast, hoping to get out of being her monitor so that she could be the debutante’s monitor instead (surely the debutante already has one?) and Darrell becomes Pamela’s monitor instead.
Meanwhile Darrell discovers that Pamela is planning to leave Malory Towers despite only being in the lower sixth. She assumes it is financial problems and talks to Miss Potts but, not exactly a big shock, it turns out that Pamela is the debutante.
It may have been pretty obviously telegraphed but I did enjoy seeing Gwen’s face when she realises she’s entirely messed up.
Pamela clearly isn’t very happy about being a debutante – perhaps that’s why she looks far prettier as a schoolgirl than when she is done up in her dress. (I don’t know if that was an intentional thing done with makeup etc or purely her well acted misery showing through). I get a bit rage-y thinking about the pure misogyny involved in all this – Pamela explains it’s her responsibility to be debuted into society as she needs to find a husband in order to provide an heir and to help her run her family’s estate when it comes to her. (I’m disappointed to see that debutantes are still a ‘thing’ even without the royal connections. I also think it’s very weird that girls of 16-20 essentially dress as brides for their debut).
Anyway, Darrell can’t resist interfering and books Pamela a place on the open day at the teacher training college she had wanted to go to. Understandably Pamela is furious – she’s clearly unhappy but has made up her mind that debuting is the right thing to do. Darrell only makes things worse by then trying on Pamela’s dress and getting caught in the act. Pamela is also furious about this, but really, how silly is it to store a couture dress in an unlocked classroom?
My notes for this scene basically read “DARRELL, NO!” It’s such an idiotic thing to do. It’s such a non-Darrell thing to do. Far more up Gwen’s street.
And of course the zip gets stuck and of course they rip the sash and scatter the beads as Gwen tries to help her out of it. Obviously they scramble to fix this and persuade Emily into helping, only one of the pearls is missing. Gwen has a pearl hair pin (she mentioned this before) and so goes to fetch it, only she’s wearing the flipping dress as she insisted it would be easier for Emily to fix if it was on a person, despite there being a mannequin bust there for the dress. Yes, Gwen, wearing a debutante dress several sizes too big goes all the way through the school to fetch a hair pin which Darrell could have gone for.
It’s obvious they had two dresses made as although it’s clearly too big on the chest for both Darrell and Gwen, that a dress that reaches the floor when Pamela wears it is only trailing an inch on the floor when the first formers wear it.
There’s a reason, though, because they needed Gwen to scare Alicia, Irene and Mary-Lou when they think she’s the ghost. In further inexplicable silliness she then wears the pin back and then dithers over whether or not to let Emily take it to fix the dress.
Pamela forgives Darrell and explains to her the deal with her family’s estate and so on.
“I love that there are girls out there that are breaking with tradition, who’ll make new paths for the rest of us to follow. We can’t all be pioneers, Darrell Rivers.”
I can’t help but feel that’s a cop out.
Apart from nothing in this episode being from the books I can’t see anything that was necessary for the advancement of the plot of the series. Darrell is to lose Pamela as a coach and mentor but that could have been dealt with in thirty seconds, it did not need a full episode! Obviously I haven’t seen the remaining three episodes but I imagine you could skip this one entirely and not miss anything.
It strikes me as odd some of the things they change. Why does Matron (or Miss Potts) come and wake them every day? In the books there is a bell rung, so presumably a maid would go to each tower and ring it from a spot where each dorm could hear it. Here you’ve got a matron or teacher having to go to each dorm, or four of them sharing the towers, to wake the girls. Who’s got time for that?
The benefit in this episode was that we got this little conversation:
“The early bird catches the worm.”
“Yeah but the early worm gets eaten.”
“Interesting you see yourself as the worm in this, Alicia”
The whole monitor thing made no sense, as I said above it has never been mentioned before and I’m not sire that the term ‘monitor’ fits the role. In the books the girls take it in turns to be (class)room monitor each week which means changing the water in the flower vases, wiping down the blackboard, tidying up, restocking chalk and dusters and so on. So they monitor the readiness of the classroom for the next lesson. At Whyteleaf monitors are a panel who monitor behaviour at the school and provide advice.
At St Clare’s the similar role is just called ‘waiting on’ the girls, while Roald Dahl talks about ‘fagging’ at his public school – clearly not a term I’d expect to hear now (then again one of the roles of the fags was warming the seats of the outdoor toilets, how very un-Blyton).
The name of the role aside, why when Gwen fails does Darrell get the job? Surely as Sally isn’t leaving she could go back to it.
It’s a shame that Miss Grayling is missing from these two episodes. Miss Potts is brilliant as always but Miss Grayling adds a little more gravitas. I wonder if the actress simply wasn’t available?
Sally’s plan strikes me as really stupid. Her mother was hardly going to leave while she was missing – and even if she did, as soon as Sally reappeared the school would ship her on home! It’s also ludicrous that she and Darrell hide under the very bed Mrs Hope sits on and have a conversation without Mrs Hope or Miss Potts hearing them.
On a positive note, we get a few glimpses of the grounds (not sure if some of these are actually the grounds of where it was filmed) but they are beautiful.
I’m particularly intrigued by the doorway into the slope in the last screen grab.
Lastly, they do nothing to make the forms less confusing in the show! Blyton was always very vague and girls moved up and down, and then suddenly we had upper and lower forms… Pamela is in the lower sixth, and expected to move up to the upper sixth the next year so exactly how many years would she spend at the school?
I still recommend the show but it’s clear that the more they deviate from the source material the less believable the story gets!
Next post – Malory Towers on TV – episodes eleven and twelve