There have been a few adaptations of the Adventure Series over the years, and this is (to my knowledge) the very first.
I have already reviewed the 1990 adaptation of The Castle of Adventure with Susan George, Gareth Hunt and Brian Blessed. This does not continue on from The Island of Adventure, as it introduces the characters to us again and has them meet for the first time as well. I expect that the rights to Island were still held by the 1980s film makers, else they just didn’t want to repeat the story so soon.
It was definitely a rights issue which meant that the 1996 adaptation of the full series couldn’t include Castle, but that doesn’t explain why their replacement for it (The Woods of Adventure) is so dire. Mind you, the whole series is pretty awful.
I’m getting off topic, though. This 1980s adaptation is the first (as far as I know). I’m not clear as to where it was released, though. I have referred to it as a TV movie before and it does very much watch like one, but I am happy to be corrected.
I am being deliberately vague when describing this as a 1980s film as there are two dates online for it. IMDb gives 1981, which the BFI gives 1982.
I watched this on the DVD that I got for Christmas last year. The quality is not brilliant but I expect that it isn’t really any worse than when it was first released. It also appears to be on YouTube in full.
A slightly different story
I was honestly not sure where to start with this review as I have very mixed feelings about this adaptation. So I will start with an overview of the story as told in the film, noting particularly where it deviates from the book.
Like in the 90s Adventure Series the film opens with a dramatic scene unrelated to the children. This time a man in an orange boiler suit gets shot, then an obvious dummy in an orange boiler suit plunges to its death from the top of a cliff. A Royal navy helicopter collects the body from the sea. A different man (a dry one) holds up a one hundred dollar bill for our inspection. Two more helicopters fly over a rocky coastline. A hand burns a hundred dollar bill.
All very dramatic, and rather dark for an Enid Blyton film. There are guns in her books and now and again they are fired, but the shots always go wild. I can’t recall anyone ever being shot or plunging to their death from a cliff!
Then we return to slightly more familiar territory. We see Philip who is sitting on a bench talking to a pet mouse, and he hears a strange voice who turns out to be Kiki up in a tree. So far, so good if you can ignore the fact that Philip looks about 20.
Jack and Lucy-Ann turn up a minute later, also looking about 20, and Jack has been styled to look like a stereotypical anorak.
Here is where we deviate again. Only Philip is at Mr Roy’s school, which seems larger than in the book, while Jack and Lucy-Ann just happen to live nearby. Presently Mrs Mannering comes to collect Philip from the school. She drives a rather flashy convertible, which suggests that money is not an issue. In the books Mrs Mannering slaves away in order to pay for their schooling.
Jack and Lucy-Ann turn up again and Philip asks her if the Trents can come to stay at Craggy Tops (an ambush if ever I saw one) and she says she’ll telephone Aunt Polly to ask.
There must be some time passing between these scenes as Philip meets the Trents, and they say he shouldn’t call their house as their Uncle wouldn’t like it, but they can call the school. The next thing they turn up as Philip’s leaving and he introduces them as ‘friends of mine’, yet to our knowledge they’ve spent about 2.5 minutes together. He then says he will call them with Aunt Polly’s answer (never mind their Uncle then) so he must have their phone number by now.
It’s all coming across as rather contrived and unlikely at this point, and nothing like the excitement of them running away from Mr Roy’s school.
Joe (formerly Jo-Jo) picks them up at the station, and as with the 90s adaptation he is now a white man, however he is still foreign.
They manage to add back in the Trents being unwelcome as Mrs Mannering spoke to Uncle Jocelyn who said the children could come, but didn’t tell Aunt Polly.
The scene at Craggy Tops is quite close to the books, Kiki inadvertently sucking up to Aunt Polly by saying poor Polly, and Uncle Jocelyn ranting about not keeping the children but keeping the parrot if she wants.
The boys are still sent to sleep in the tower room overlooking the Isle of Gloom – or just Gloom as they refer to it – and Joe warns them off the island.
There’s then a bit of a silly scene where Kiki flies into Jocelyn’s room and Jack goes to ask if he’s seen her. Well she’s sitting out in full view if either of them just looked around!
Exploring the cliffs Lucy-Ann spots an archway/tunnel and cries look! Apparently Philip and Dinah have never noticed it before even though they live there, and it’s through that onto the beach that they find Bill.
Of course this is in a more dramatic way than in the book. Philip finds a boat and climbs in, only for a man in a wetsuit to come up from the water behind and get him in a chokehold. It’s rather reminiscent of the beginning of The Sea of Adventure when Bill grabs Philip having mistaken him for a spy in the garden.
Lucy-Ann asks him to take them to Gloom 2 minutes after introductions. He asks them some questions and of course is particularly interested in Joe. The children are unable to tell him Joe’s last name, as apparently Aunt Polly doesn’t know it, or where he came from. He just sort of appeared.
Thank goodness that Jack is there with his astute observations. I think he’s foreign. He’s got some sort of an accent.
Bill takes them out on the boat straight away. At least Philip is suspicious after Bill’s attack on him. They have a nice time sailing around the island and when they get back Dinah kisses Bill on the cheek. Lucy-Ann is so forward (compared to her book counterpart) that she says if Dinah can kiss you I don’t see why I can’t and kisses him too. Earlier Dinah said I like him, about Bill in an almost dreamy teenage romance kind of way, but now, in response to Philip’s teasing that she has a crush on Bill she says he’s the kid of person she’d like to have as a father.
Still, the fact that Bill asks them not to tell their aunt and uncle about him, and the way he puts his arms around the girls later does seem rather creepy. Obviously we know he’s a good guy but it all comes off as a bit inappropriate.
They then try to add more complexity to the story. Bill takes them into town and they are to meet him for lunch at the hotel. In the book Jo-Jo is hanging around so after they eat they slip out the back way. On screen Bill knows the woman working at the hotel and rushes the kids out before they’ve even eaten anything. I can’t work out who the hotel woman is. Has he been in for lunch so often that she knows his favourite sweet? He kisses her twice and they seem genuinely fond of each other but a bit flirtatious too. She warns another hotel staff member that she saw nothing and should say nothing to anyone about Bill.
He then drops them back at Craggy Tops, right outside the gate after, though. Very clever if he’s trying to keep a low profile!
The boys then steal one of Dinah’s few triumphs from the book. In the book she absconds with a book and map from Uncle Jocelyn’s study, having spotted it by accident and asked him a few questions. Instead the boys plan to go in and steal a map. Somehow they end up believing that Uncle Jocelyn is part of the mining operation and Bill is from a rival company.
Then at last they’re off to Gloom. Being the 80s it’s a Coke can they find on the island instead of empty food tins.
The underground portion plays out more or less as it does in the book with the children getting locked in a cave minus Jack who’s off looking for Kiki. Apart from all the men wearing orange boiler suits and blue hard hats. It looks a much more professional organisation, with Johnathon Rhys-Davies as the Bond-type villain (Smith) lording it over all his minions.
The children don’t play-act at bad air but break the lamp and escape leading to a few minutes of confusing running around in the dark (they’re using torches, but it is actually dark! Usually torches are unnecessary on TV as it’s bright enough to see).
Having escaped the island they try to phone the police but the phone doesn’t work. Bill finds his boat has been set on fire – much more dramatic than them finding it has a hole hacked in the bottom – and goes to Craggy Tops. Discovering no dial tone he just knows that the wires have been cut.
Then we’re back to following the book as Bill and Philip go down the well to Jack’s rescue and get caught.
Rhys-Davies continues to play the Bond villain, explaining his entire operation and plans to Bill because it won’t matter, he’s going to die.
So Mr Cunningham, we meet at last… I shall leave you now. We shall not meet again.
At least he stops short of No, Mr Cunningham, I expect you to die!
This is all delivered in what I think is supposed to be a Russian accent, but Rhys-Davies is a bit like Sean Connery and does most things in his own accent.
I was disappointed that they just climb out of the well shaft in the end, but I suppose flooding it and floating up would have posed some filming challenges.
There’s a brief scene in the middle of that where we see the minions escaping on dinghies in the dark, then the sun has come up and a submarine emerges only to be blown up by a Navy ship.
For some reason Smith and Jake escape the mines AFTER Bill and the boys.
It then all gets rather dark (in the thematic sense) for a Blyton adaptation as Smith shoots Jake not once but twice. Once from a distance and then again as he lies on the jetty. Then it all gets rather silly and overblown as they throw in a high-speed boat chase where Bill is after Smith. Smith makes it to a harbour and makes for a beach buggy (was it just waiting there for him?) but is caught by other officers. He then breaks a tooth and kills himself with cyanide.
Joe tries to climb the well shaft by Craggy Tops (how did he even know about this?) and the girls brain him with the heavy well bucket and possibly kill him.
We end with Bill talking to his boss who tells him he’s off to Afghanistan. Bill says he is going to visit the children again before he goes, and that one of these days he will get married. He boards a train to Cornwall and just happens(?) to be sitting beside Mrs Mannering…
This is so 80s it almost hurts. Though when we first meet Dinah she’s going a good impersonation of a 1950s pin up. The rest of the film she’s wearing a pair of knee high white boots – not very practical for scrambling around islands but probably very on-trend.
Craggy Tops isn’t very impressive. Rather than being a large and rambling house built into the cliffs by the sea its a smallish building built into a rocky mound some way back from the sea. The fact it doesn’t have electricity or running water makes it seem all the more archaic, even more so than it would have been in the 1940s. In the book they’re just too rural/inaccessible to be hooked up. For the film it’s explained as Uncle Jocelyn refusing to have mains electric and thinking that the mains water is poisoned.
The Island is ok, not that we see much of the outside of it. The caves and tunnels are fairly dark but they seem convincing enough.
As I said earlier the children all looked too old. Having checked IMDb, they were 18 (Dinah), 20 (Jack) and 21 (Lucy-Ann). I couldn’t find a date of birth for the actor playing Philip but his first acting role was as a ‘youth’ in 1976, so he was at least 18 if not older.
To be honest at first I kept expecting them to break into rude jokes like the Comic Strip Presents episodes.
There were no bad actors in this, but given their ages the children weren’t brilliant. Philip in particular was a little flat at times. I enjoyed Uncle Jocelyn’s scenes and he got some funny lines – his disbelief when Jacks says he calls ‘her’ Kiki, (he’s talking about the parrot of course but Jocelyn thinks he means Aunt Polly) is very funny.
Bill was OK, though not how I imagine him and I’d say the same for Mrs Mannering. Bill did get some good lines though, like what did you expect, the Ritz? when Philip complains that the undersea tunnel is grotty.
Overall I wasn’t terribly impressed. It stuck to the book in general (far more so than the 90s series did), but the added scenes with the Navy were unnecessary. They played out like stock footage from some other film as they were entirely unrelated to what was going on with the children. The various on-screen deaths were also a bizarre departure from the tone of the book.
A few changes (like the escape from the mines) I understand but why not have Jack and Lucy-Ann at the school to make their friendship more believable? And why did Mrs Mannering have to be shoe-horned in at the beginning?
Character-wise the children weren’t all that much like in the books. Philip’s pets were shown at the start but forgotten by the time they got to Craggy Tops. He and Dinah barely argued except over whether Bill was a good guy or not. Jack was introduced as bird-obsessed but did very little bird watching, and Lucy-Ann was much more confident than in the books.
They also missed one of my favourite parts – them discovering the secret passage from the beach to the house and then using it to trick Jo-Jo. Talking of which, Joe in the book is surly but not nearly as menacing as Jo-Jo.
Have you seen this? What did you think?