After a slightly shaky start to series two, let’s have a look at episodes three and four.
Episode three: The Stray
There are at least four plots woven together in this episode, though three are quite minor and so don’t overshadow the main story.
The main story is about Ellen. In the books we know that as a scholarship girl she will be less well-off than the other girls, but I don’t recall it being of any great importance until they are looking for a thief. TV Ellen is shown as ‘poor’ over and over. Her Malory Towers dress is too large – when Gwen commented o9n this in the fist episode Ellen said her mother had bought it to last. She doesn’t have the right lacrosse kit – the other girls have beige jerseys with a logo while she has plain navy. Incidentally they played lacrosse in black skirts and white blouses last time so the new kit seems to have been brought in just to make Ellen an outsider. Her plimsolls are also far too large (bought to last again, maybe?), so large one flies off during their lacrosse warm up.
Sally begins to blossom in this series – I think the actress is coming into herself as well. Sally is no longer closed-off and is getting storylines of her own. As head of form she is worried about Ellen feeling like she doesn’t fit in.
Gwen, however… well, she’s just being Gwen as usual. She thinks it’s up to Ellen to make an effort and just send out for the right gym kit. Sally has to point out to her that as a scholarship girl she might not be able to afford that.
“Ellen already gets a scholarship, if she wanted a nice trunk she should have just brought one with her. They’re hardly expensive.” – Gwen
Gwen’s the kind of girl who will grow up to not understand why life is more expensive when you’re poor. I can see her asking why someone doesn’t just spend £200 on good quality boots that will last a long time instead of £20 supermarket ones.
Anyway, she is shocked to find out that Ellen is poor. But luckily for Ellen (or not as the case may be) Gwen is magnanimous enough to say that she will still be Ellen’s friend despite that. Though it would seem that it is mostly because she wants help with her French prep.
“I understand you come from poverty?”
“Well, I didn’t have a governess at home if that’s what you mean.”
Ellen is quite funny as she sees that too, and is somewhat sarcastic in her gratitude to Gwen, which Gwen takes seriously.
Ellen then has an outburst which is more characteristic of the books but comes rather out of nowhere. She calls Gwen lazy (which is kind of fair enough, as Ellen has been helping her with a lot of prep) but she also rants about how all the other girls have been lazy too, preferring to play tricks than work. Obviously she is worried about her marks as she only gets to stay on her scholarship if she does well, but it is a sudden outburst. Ellen in the book appears sulky and cross almost all the time because she is studying at all hours. Ellen does remind Gwen/us she’s never done Latin before, though we know she did well enough in the class test that perhaps suggests she studied very, very hard but we didn’t see even a hint of it. We do see her reading a book in her lacrosse kit, suggesting she’s studying harder than some of her classmates but it’s not to the stressed excess of the books (yet).
Anyway, Sally and the rest of the class (except Jean) decide that they are going to do something to make Ellen feel welcome. Their idea is to get together some old lacrosse kits and a spare trunk and give them to her.
Well, if you’ve ever read an Enid Blyton book you’ll know that her poorer characters hate charity. It’s a common theme in stories from all sort of authors – people don’t like being given handouts. I imagine people still feel like that now but it seemed particular common in the time before we had state benefits and the NHS. People were proud to cope with life and accepting charity could be seen as weak.
Ellen is no different. She’s humiliated by the girls’ actions and Jean gives them a talking to. It’s a shame as they really did mean well, but being genuinely wealthy they just hadn’t anticipated or thought about how it might make Ellen feel.
One of the other plots is actually connected to the title of the episode. I hadn’t paid attention to the episode title so when Matron’s kippers were stolen I didn’t twig right away. I thought aha, we have a thief! But kippers are a weird thing to steal…
Well obviously it’s a cat… Ellen finds it and tries to keep it starting a plot reminiscent of Katherine finding the dog in St Clare’s. Matron catches her as it turns out Gwen’s allergic to cats, and gets Ron (the gardener) to take the cat away but Ellen rescues it again. I can’t help but wonder why Ellen’s so bothered about the cat, has she really got the time and energy for it as surely we are leading up to her breakdown over studying so hard? Perhaps they’re just trying to make her more well-rounded but I’m not sure a secret cat plot was needed at this point.
The third plot is the one that I assume will run through the whole series, that of Malory Towers’ financial troubles. It’s a very small part of the episode as Darrell (who is still in remedial with Irene, now taught by Miss Grayling) sees a letter on Miss Grayling’s desk about debts and arrears, and she and Sally work out that the school might be sold and closed.
And lastly there’s the mysterious artist’s identity. Two more pictures are found, and Darrell is determined to find out who it is – even going so far as to plant coloured pencils in girls’ desks. That doesn’t work but the artist outs themselves anyway, and it isn’t Ellen as I previously thought.
Just one further thing, though not really a plot in its own right. It was Matron taking lacrosse in this episode (rather outside of her duties, I’d imagine, which might explain why she sat drinking tea while shouting at them from the side-lines) . She says that Miss Osbourne is unavailable – is that a new teacher as it was Miss Potts last year.
Anyway, Ellen storms off after the shoe embarrassment and Matron is fuming. She has Ellen meet with her later – in a summer house of all places. Matron is surprisingly kind to Ellen, definitely showing a different side of herself. It was almost as if she had been in Ellen’s shoes at some point. She talked about how the other girls don’t really understand or appreciate how rich they are compared to others. She also doesn’t punish Ellen.
Episode 4 – The Audition
This episode has slightly less going on – just three storylines.
The main one is Georgina Thomas holding auditions for a play about Lady Jane Malory and her lover Highwayman Jack.
Auditions are to be held at 2pm yet the posters only go up that morning, giving the girls very little time to get into pairs (they MUST audition in pairs, seemingly as Lady Jane and Jack even though there must be other parts) and learn any lines.
Gwen is desperate to get the leading part as her father is upset with her over something and threatening to stop her pocket money. She feels the need to do something to impress him, but nobody wants to audition with her, though Darrell eventually agrees.
Darrell you’d make a smashing highway man – you’re already so boyish – Gwen
I expect Gwen meant that as a sort of compliment, but yikes. It’s a wonder Darrell agreed.
They audition – for about thirty seconds, on a tiny stage in a small room. There are only a few other girls auditioning too, all from Darrell’s form. Gwen, who can’t act for toffee in the books is not bad. She does forget her line but Darrell says the wrong line first and throws her off. Yet Georgina makes Darrell read for Lady Jane and gives her the part…
As Darrell doesn’t want the part, she only did the audition as Gwen needed a partner, and Gwen is rather upset Darrell talks to Georgina and tries to get her to give Gwen the part. Unfortunately for Gwen Georgina is obviously a bit unhinged as instead she gives Gwen the role of Jack and decides to direct AND play Lady Jane herself… thus making the whole auditioning for Lady Jane in pairs pointless.
Saying that, there is a scene in the credits with Darrell playing Jack on stage, so it looks like it will all change around again.
During all that Gwen talks about her father and somehow ends up saying that her father is very ill, when it’s quite clear that he isn’t. She also seems to realise how much hard work a play involves, so she’s probably going to regret auditioning.
One of the minor plots involves Irene, who has been asked to give a note to Mam’zelle excusing her from class to write music for the play. Watching the scene where Mr Parker gives Irene the note, plus the love story song lyrics I just knew she was going to muddle them up, something about how the camera focussed on her putting a piece of paper in each pocket.
Mam’zelle gets the lyrics which read like a love letter, and sends a reply back with Irene, the first line of which talks about her and Mr Parker being free to declare their feelings.
First it starts out looking as if Mam’zelle is going to be embarrassed when Mr Parker has to admit they’re song lyrics, but then it looks like the two of them are flirting away… only for them to finally reveal they were playing a trick on the girls. Mam’zelle knew the letter wasn’t real, and her letter to Mr Parker revealed that after the first line. Quite a ‘risk’ to take, assuming that Irene would read the first line and only the first line of her letter.
The other plot includes a trick, too. A diary of Lady Jane’s turns up, and may contain more clues to her hidden treasure. Alicia brings Darrell and Sally a letter from it, and a map, which should lead to the gems – points to Stef for pointing out how new and clean the paper looked. Darrell and Sally go digging around only to find a chest with a note in it making fun, as it’s all Alicia’s joke.
It’s half in fun, I think, and half because the two of them are leaving Alicia out. She’s lost Betty and as they don’t want to tell her about the letter and the debts, they won’t let her join them in the treasure hunt.
Some additional thoughts
The remedial lessons are a nice bit of continuity from the last series, but there’s no mention of the leak in the girls’ dorm even after the ceiling fell in. It must have been quietly repaired in between episodes. Mr Parker has also faded into the background, apart from a couple of scenes in episode four, giving Irene the note etc, he’s barely been seen. Is that his storyline done, then? He arrived, was uncertain, over reacted and Mary-Lou talked him out of it?
Miss Grayling says that she grew up in the grounds of Malory towers and has searched for Lady Jane’s treasure many times, but even the newly found diary doesn’t solve the mystery. I hope we find out more about all of that!
I think these episodes were a little better than the first two, but they had too much going on. I think they could have left out the stray cat and the mystery artist for two stronger episodes, though the next one is called The Caricatures so it looks like the artist is going to become important for at least one episode.
Gwen’s still the best part of the programme for me, her facial expressions are brilliant. I think the actresses are really getting into their stride with the show now, although they were all good in series one they are better in series two.