I gave the majority of the episodes in season one a glowing review (The Dress being the only one I found disappointing) so I’m keen to see how series two holds up.
Episode one: The Head of Form
Episode one begins at the train station, though have just got off the train to get on the bus, rather than boarding the train so we don’t see her parents or Felicity. What we do see the contrast between the two years as now Darrell is popular. There’s all the usual chatter about bagsying seats beside friends and so on.
Gwen introduces the new girl – the new scholarship girl – Ellen, and gives Ellen a run-down of the other girls. I expect this is as much for the viewers’ benefit as Ellen’s. Immediately Gwen latches on to Ellen, I mean she’s the only girl who doesn’t know what she’s like!
At the school Alicia reveals that Betty has left – thus kick-starting the subtle fight between her and Sally over Darrell.
As the episode title suggests the episode is about picking the head of form. In the books this is done by the teachers and announced, but the show has decided to make it a vote. Mr Parker – the new teacher – ‘s first job is to take nominations. He arrives in the classroom just in time, to a chorus of giggles from the girls, as Darrell had bumped into him at the train station causing his case to fall open and reveal a teddy bear.
Gwen nominates herself – I think she just wants the time off sports for school council meetings – and makes Ellen second her.
Irene nominates Alicia – who I wouldn’t have imagined would want to do it, far too many rules and hard work – but it’s seconded by Jean.
And lastly Sally nominates Darrell, though Darrell had been about to nominate Sally. Of course the books have Sally as head girl, so this is an interesting development.
Almost immediately Darrell almost ruins her chances – they go down for a swim before breakfast (something Matron encourages them to do, though I don’t remember it being done last year) and she jumps in with Ellen only to discover Ellen can’t swim. It’s actually quite painful to watch! She has assumed that Gwen is holding Ellen back from swimming because Gwen herself hates is, and knowing what Gwen’s like it’s not an unlikely scenario, but she doesn’t ask Ellen, or give her a chance to speak. And of course Gwen uses the aftermath to get several digs in about Darrell’s temper.
Gwen’s attempts to become form-head are quite funny. She brings Matron flowers but Matron a) has hay fever and b) doesn’t have a vote.
She also puts flowers in the classroom and tells Mr Parker that she’d bring that in as a regular thing if she was head of form. Of course in the books there are flowers in the classrooms and the girls have a rota for watering them and cleaning the chalk boards etc.
After a period last year of it being somewhat forgotten Darrell’s word blindness/dyslexia shows up again. Mr Parker apparently hasn’t heard of it and humiliates her in front of the class over being unable to spell his name. It’s quite bizarre how wild he goes – as if he’s been pushed to the limits but he’s only been there five minutes and the girls have barely given him any trouble.
Anyway, the upshot is that after Mr Parker gives Irene 200 lines for trying to stand up for Darrell Darrell loses her temper and has to withdraw her nomination.
She then nominates Sally (with no second it would seem) and we are probably back on track for Sally as form head just like in the book.
Alicia makes a speech full of jokes, and declares she’d get rid of detention and order-marks which I think is beyond her remit!
Gwen begins by saying she’s not just a pretty face, but Malory Towers has sharpened her less visible qualities, going on to quote Churchill about everything in her life being a preparation for this moment. So she bigs herself up on all fronts, smarms up to the teachers and makes vague promises. She’d make a good politician!
Sally is more down to earth. She wants to be a form representative, rather than a head, and represents the girls as individuals making things fair and even for them all. Though she leads by saying I don’t want to be head of form, followed by a long enough pause to make you think she’s standing down!
Mrs Grayling sets Mr Parker right on Darrell’s dyslexia and tells him to read up on it, but of course it’s too late for the head girl post which goes to Sally by one vote, Alicia coming in second, of course.
Alicia is much more disappointed that I’d have imagined but she perks up when Darrell reminds her that if she was head girl she’d have to behave. Gwen is also rather disappointed but I can’t imagine how she thought the girls would vote for her after her behaviour last term. Darrell did extend an olive branch but she must know she’s not popular!
The Alicia-Darrell-Sally triangle continues as Alicia wants to keep her plans for a trick secret from Sally, lest she spoil it. She also says that the head girl job is for girls as dull as ditch water so Sally is perfect.
She does however invite her to a midnight feast, where they play loud music and shout and dance – not very sneaky!
We get a hint into what’s to come as Gwen discovers a little drip by her bed and tries to get Ellen to swap her under false pretences, but the other girls stop her. You’d think Ellen would be pleased but she complains that she can’t please everyone at once – just a tiny hint of the attitude of book Ellen I suppose, though so far she has seemed fairly happy.
2 The Dunce’s Cap
The dorm roof is still leaking, again this is probably a hint that Malory Towers is falling apart and there’s no money to fix it. They apparently couldn’t even afford a bucket as the water is just pooling on a chair. Still, it gives Gwen the idea of soaking her unfinished French prep so that it is illegible.
Unfortunately for her Mam’zelle Rougier just tells her to stay behind after class and redo it! I’m not sure if Mam’zelle simply saw through her story, or just didn’t care.
Also unfortunate is the fact that Matron knows they had a midnight feast and has words with Mr Parker telling him not to let the girls away with any nonsense.
Meanwhile, Alicia’s trick from her brother has arrived, a piece of pink chalk. Unlike in the book the chalk has no instructions so they are confused when it doesn’t draw. I’d have assumed it was to sneak into a classroom to baffle a teacher when writing on the chalkboard.
However, they play around testing it out and quickly discover that it is heat-activates. So, the trick is on. And despite Alicia wanting to keep Sally out of pranks in the previous episode, she makes no attempt to keep this one a secret from the head of form.Their first use of it is on Mam’zelle Rougier, using the distraction of Gwen’s sob story about the leak, and pull it off nicely.
Mr Parker, having taken Matron’s words seriously has brought in a dunce’s hat. I’d have thought that was an outdated idea by Malory Towers time but apparently it was still in use in 1950s America.
I thought this would be the start of the pressure on Ellen (her book storyline revolves around her being a scholarship girl under tremendous pressure to do well, so much pressure she makes herself ill and ends up cheating for an exam) along with her statement that she’s never studied Latin before, but in fact it is Mary-Lou that falls apart. She knows her Latin just fine but having to stand up in class and recite it, knowing that the Dunce’s hat awaits any girls who fail, it’s too much for her and she flubs it.
Darrell and Sally had made a joint decision to confiscate Alicia’s chalk to prevent anyone getting caught and having to wear the dunce’s hat but when Mr Parker makes Mary-Lou wear the dunce hat Darrell speaks out and then uses the chalk on his chair as revenge.
I was expecting a nice OY but what we get is a wonky O. Well, that’s what I thought anyway. Turns out it’s a D for dunce. The effect is the same – it’s obviously not a naturally occurring stain but the OY is pretty iconic so it’s a shame they changed it, even if tying it into the fabricated dunce plot is quite clever.
The second problem is that Mary-Lou was in the dunce’s corner behind the desk, so it’s going to look like she played the trick. The girls’ solution to this is to all join her in the classroom wearing their own home-made dunce’s caps. It’s a nice bit of solidarity, but I’m not sure how it was supposed to stop her from being blamed by Mr Parker. Gwen also takes part which isn’t like her!
He catches them and Darrell says it was all her idea, but Mary-Lou (definitely their courage mouse as said in the first episode) goes out to talk to him about the psychological impact of the dunce’s hat, and he actually listens.
The episode ends with Darrell finding an excellent caricature of Mr Parker, but not knowing who drew it. Seeing as there were no caricatures last year, and there is one now that there’s a new girl, my money’s on the new girl.
So far that puts Ellen in the unenviable position of being Ellen, Belinda and possible Daphne too.
The sub-plot of the leak provides us some good comic relief in this episode, as Matron finally investigates. Having poked the ceiling she decides it’s a leaking pipe and sends Irene for the caretaker, but she is caught by Mam’zelle Rougier whose class she’s supposed to be in.
So that leaves Matron plugging the hole with her finger for ages, then using a tissue, leading to the drip becoming a pour and and finally her being soaked as the ceiling collapses. My notes from this scene simply read hahaha Matron. But honestly, she’s the absolute dunce of the episode. It’s a 1940s school, there must be plenty of buckets around, she could have stuck one under the drip and gone to get the caretaker herself. I was literally shouting at the TV GET A BUCKET, MATRON!!
Some miscellaneous thoughts
The train station they arrive at is called PorthMallory, a new name for the TV show.
Other new names include some of the girls getting surnames – it’s Mary-Lou Linett, Jean Dunlop, and Irene Edwards.
Another even bigger change – and one that I can’t get over yet – is that Miss Grayling is being played by a new actress. She’s fine, but the first one was so perfect! I was wondering who the new teacher was at the start of the first episode as I knew we were getting Mr Parker , as I had missed Gwen telling Ellen (and us again) that she was the head! Obviously things happen and cast members become unavailable, and they’ve done well to have all the original girls come back, but I’m gutted nonetheless.
I’m also missing Miss Potts as she was brilliant!
And lastly, I may be wrong, but I thought that it was usually just the boys that learned Latin at school – after all, they were the ones that would go on to become doctors and lawyers. If so, it continues to show Malory Towers as a somewhat progressive school following on from the girls learning chemistry the previous year.
My thoughts on series two so far
It’s early days but so far this hasn’t quite lived up to series one. It may well pick up, and I’ve still enjoyed it but something is missing.
I haven’t worked out Mr Parker yet, but he’s rather all over the place. He’s half panicked that he isn’t in control and half going over the top to be in control. It is quite a different dynamic, to have a brand-new teacher rather than an old hand. Hopefully he will settle as the girls are obviously suffering a bit!
They have tried to cram quite a lot into the first two episodes so far, and not all of it ties together very well. I’d have liked to see Mr Parker being pushed a lot further before losing it with the girls, perhaps the OY could have pushed him over the edge to bring in the dunce’s cap. I suspect that there’s some back-story there, with the teddy bear and his admission that he had to wear a dunce’s hat at school himself, but we will see. Jason Callender who plays Mr Parker gives a few small clues in an interview about his character development and highlights the fact that he is the first male teacher at the school – something that isn’t mentioned on-screen, but goes some way to explaining his behaviour perhaps.
Malory Towers on TV – wonderful! Thank you 😊
I agree with much of what you’ve said, the series has made a decent start but it’s a bit less immersive than series 1 thus far.
I’m not sure what to make of Mr. Parker yet. Even accounting for his “new teacher learning the ropes” story, he’s swinging from kind (“Well done Ellen, you’ve made good progress”) to practically bullying (his treatment of Mary-Lou) within the same scene. I’ve not made my mind up if this makes sense within the story, or if his character could have benefited from another session with the script editor.
Re: Latin, from my understanding this was relatively common. The girls schools (at least those which made an academic effort) followed the lead of the traditional boys schools, which in turn placed a heavy emphasis on the Classics. Of the two, Chemistry is definitely the more progressive.
Thank you for your review. I’ve not watched the series and I still don’t intend to – too many changes from the books for my liking. But it’s interesting to read about it.
I’m not sure about Latin in British girls’ schools back then but it is mentioned (at least) once in the books too: It’s said that Bill “was brilliant at Latin, which she had continually taken with her brothers” so it seems that Latin was taught at Malory Towers.
Girls were beginning to go to University so Latin would have been more common in girls’ schools. The aim of the school is to give girls new opportunities in a new world. While also understanding that these girls come from wealth and privilege.. I love the fact that the casting seems so natural, that nobody bats an earlid that Mr Parker or Ellen are black, it just works. Anyone that went to boarding school in those times will tell you the teachers were vicious and cruel. Most dyslexic kids were dismissed as lazy or stupid.
You have to be bare in mind that this has been filmed around Covid-19, so they may have had to limit the cast.
The TV series of Malory Towers is extremely disappointing and not at all in keeping with the novels. In the novels, the school looks like a castle – which it doesn’t in the series. Matron was not Irish in the novels, and the Third Form mistress was Miss Peters, not Miss Johnson. Darrell was NOT dyslexic in the novels either. Extremely disappointing. Zerelda doesn’t appear in the series either.
While you can’t expect a TV adaptation to recreate every detail of the books perfectly, I agree that many of the changes don’t make sense. However, I’m not bothered by the differences in nationality/appearance of the cast. It’s a shame the building doesn’t look like a castle but castles are probably harder to acquire for filming than country mansions – and the building they do have (plus the surrounding grounds) is beautiful.