Malory Towers on TV series two – Episodes five and six

I has been a while since I reviewed the first four episodes of series two, Christmas got in the way and then I just never got back to it. That’s not a great sign, really, if you watch 4 episodes of something then aren’t that bothered about watching the rest, but I definitely haven’t found this series as good as the last.

A reminder of episodes one and two, and three and four.

Episode five: The Caricatures

It is Alicia’s birthday in this episode, but unlike last year a hamper from her family has not arrived. Alicia is pretty upset – as you would be (it turns out OK in the end, though, as the delivery has just been delayed).

Mary-Lou, the recently discovered artist, gives her a picture of Matron and Mam’zelle, though a big deal made about how it mustn’t be shown to anyone else.

And so it becomes very clear now that Mary-Lou is taking on Belinda’s plots. In the book Belinda draws the two Mam’zelles trying to murder each other, as they are driving the girls mad fighting over who will act in the French play. The two Mam’zelles have a long history of not getting along but I can’t recall if Mam’zelle and Matron have the same sort of attitude, or if Mam’zelle had to face a spider in the last series/episodes. If anyone’s spotted anything like that as a background to the drawing, let me know!

Back to Belinda for a moment, I’m rather gutted that she won’t be in the show. Katherine and Emily have moved on (with no acknowledgement) so there should have been room in the dorm for two new girls. I love Belinda, and her friendship with Irene, so it’s a real shame that she isn’t going to be brought to life.

Anyway,  for a joke Alicia sticks it to the chalkboard, thinking that Mr Parker will enjoy it (in the book the girls put the sketchbook on the desk thinking Mam’zelle Dupont will find it funny). In both it is Mam’zelle Rougier who shows up unexpectedly, leaving the girls desperately trying to remove the picture before she sees it.

In the book Darrell goes up and says the book has been put there by mistake, and nearly gets away with it, but Mam’zelle Rougier being pedantic wants to check it before it was taken.

This adaptation goes for a sillier series of events. As it’s on the chalkboard in plain sight the other girls need to distract Mam’zelle while Alicia retrieves the picture. Before she can sit down again, though, Mam’zelle asks her to come up to the front. It seems to me that she had time to try to slip the picture into her desk or hand it to someone else, but no, she takes it back to the front albeit hidden behind her back. I know that Mam’zelle is sharp and might have noticed and asked to see it anyway, but surely it was worth a shot? Instead, running out of options she then slips it into the pile of prep on the desk, the pile that Mam’zelle is going to mark later…

After French class the girls join Matron in their housecraft lesson, where Sally has arranged for them to make a cake for Alicia’s birthday. Earlier, Matron had told her she needed to find the ingredients, somehow, a bit of a challenge given that they are still under rationing. As it turns out Ron has worked a miracle and got them flour, sugar and eggs (real, not powdered!) from the grocer.

They then make the cake in the attic room where they do their painting, music, try on debutante dresses etc. I thought it seemed an odd choice (but they only seem to have seven sets), as although the mixing is easily done anywhere it still has to be baked. Later we see Matron with the iced cake back in the attic room, so either there’s an oven up there or she carted it up and down the stairs. This is when she can’t resist eating a big slice (her internal battle is a treat to watch).

Luckily Alicia wasn’t present for the lesson, as she had gone to try to get the picture back – which begs the question, how was Sally planning to surprise Alicia if Alicia was supposed to be in the lesson? It isn’t explicitly said it would be a surprise but none of the girls mention it to her before hand, and Sally talks about making it for Alicia not with Alicia.

There’s also the question of how the cake gets finished, as Mam’zelle catches Alicia and hauls the rest of the class back down to grill them on who is responsible.

This is where Alicia acts somewhat un-Alicia like. She lies and tells Mam’zelle that she drew the picture. First up, Alicia isn’t a liar. In fact she often tells too much of the truth. Few of Blyton’s characters, excepting ones like Gwen, tell lies. Secondly, Alicia (at least of the books) doesn’t have a whole lot of time for Mary-Lou who she finds to be a baby, so she wouldn’t be that keen to protect her. And thirdly, Alicia is not stupid, and should know that it is not a credible lie as she simply cannot draw like that.

Miss Grayling is smart enough to know that Alicia is lying, but Mary-Lou has plucked up the courage to come clean just as Alicia is being forced to draw something.

Despite all the proof being in front of her Mam’zelle refuses to believe it is Mary-Lou –

She is lying to protect her friend. I know Mary-Lou and this is not her.

whereas Matron laughs and finds it funny – keeping her cast in the Mam’zelle Dupont role. I’m left wondering why nobody told her about any of this, she only discovers it by chance.

The caricature plotline is one I really enjoy in the book, and it’s a shame that it has been meddled with to such an extent. It’s barely recognisable as the same story, especially as it’s surrounded by two other plots.

One is Gwen and the play – I now realise that this play does come from the book, as above the Mam’zelles are putting on a French play, but beyond the casting issues the play isn’t really in the book.

But here we have Gwen begging Mary-Lou to help her with her lines as it is far more important (than Mary-Lou’s essay), and I have a lot on. She refuses Darrell’s help, in a cut-your-nose-to-spite-your-face sort of way, and later is furious when Darrell tells Mary-Lou about Gwen’s father. I still can’t work out if her father really is ill, or if it’s a lie.

Gwen’s also having to make the bunting for the play as Georgina has told her to do it. Are Gwen and Georgina the only actors in the play? It’s only the two of them at rehearsal anyway. Gwen tells Georgina about her father and the older girl is entirely unsympathetic.

I don’t have time for melodrama, Gwendoline!

The last plot is pretty minor – just a continuation of Ellen’s story. She has an outburst about noise in the common room –

Goodness I wish I could be as relaxed about work as you two are, playing music and learning lines. Some of us need to study!

rather out of the blue and Gwen, being Gwen later remarks that Ellen will have no friends with that attitude which Ellen overhears. Shortly after Ellen says to Jean that she didn’t mean to be rude. I feel like the show has tried to make Ellen a bit more rounded but she swings between behaving like a regular, happy girl and a snappy, studying obsessed girl. Maybe that’s more realistic but it makes the snappishness seem to come out of nowhere. In the book the other girls (and the narrative) mention how Ellen is always snapping about noise, always studying and so on. The show has shown us she is stressed about school work but perhaps not to the same extent as the book.

And we end on probably the best part of the episode as Matron brings the birthday cake to the dorm, with a slice missing, and says Obviously I had to grade your efforts.

Episode six: The Runaway

This episode focuses more on Ellen again. She wakes up in the morning with her bed full of books and papers from studying.  She resumed feverish studying, planning to skip breakfast even though that’s not allowed – and Jean covers for her at breakfast. They were to have a test that day, so skipping breakfast doesn’t seem like the wisest decision even if it leaves more time for studying.

She admits that she’s worried that she will fail and have to leave school. This is book Ellen’s worry too – compounded by her parents not being well off and having paid a lot of money for uniforms and so on. TV Ellen has another element added – she says if she goes home she will have to look after her aunt, presumably instead of an education and/or career.

We see them sitting their test and Elle looks pleased, she finishes in plenty of time and is even able to go back over her answers. That makes it double gutting that afterwards she realises that she has missed a page or two. She is so upset by this – assuming that she has failed the test and will be asked to leave. So she ‘runs away’ hence the title of the episode. She doesn’t go far – just to the potting shed – which at least makes sense. Running away because you’re being sent away doesn’t make any sense, but hiding away because you are afraid and don’t want to face the teachers I can understand.

Anyway, when she’s found she’s very shaken, and is sent to the San. I was thinking that we were getting back on track for the plot of the book – Ellen being ill ad unable to study leading to her trying to cheat. But Mr Parker comes to see her and says she’s had an attack of the nerves and needs to rest. Malory Towers is about more than academic achievement and she needs to broader her horizons and play sport and have fun. He even tells her that she wouldn’t have to leave even if she fails at tests.

So the pressure has been entirely taken off Ellen, now. I cannot see how the original plot can be brought back in now. Even if something really drastic happened, would Ellen really be moved to cheat?

The two secondary plots are interlinked. One is that Georgina has lost half-a-crown and asks Gwen to look for it. I was then wondering if we would get the thief plot from the book, even though we have no Daphne. But Gwen sees it in Mr Parker’s drawer (he found it on the classroom floor). Georgina finds Gwen slacking off in the common room and so Gwen pretends she was still hunting for the coin, which she by way of sleight-of-hand produces from the back of the sofa.

There was something odd about that whole scene. Was Gwen planning to keep the coin, or was her lie about still looking for the coin simply so that Georgina wouldn’t know she was slacking? She seems to look at the coin rather wistfully, making me wonder if there are money problems at home. What’s definitely odd is that Georgina doesn’t think it’s odd that her coin was found in the second formers’ common room. But saying I spotted a blue backdrop and brown curtains in the corner of the common room, ones that looked rather like the audition stage, so it looks like Georgina held the auditions in their common room, though I can’t see why. (Lack of sets, again?)

This all ties in to Darrell and Sally trying to think of money making schemes, their whispering makes Gwen paranoid that her secret (about her father being ill) will get out. So much so that she keeps trying to read Darrell’s diary. What she finds in there instead is about the school’s money problems, and she immediately spills the news to the rest of the form. None of them are very happy about being kept in the dark but Gwen is really vicious about it.

This episode also barely resembles the book, the plots that have been taken have been hanged substantially, so much so that both these episodes felt quite filler-y. Not a lot happened to move the main storyline(s) on.

One highlight was Matron falling asleep on a chair in the san and being woken by an embarrassed Mr Parker.

I think you were resting your eyes.

That’s the thing I do. Focuses my thoughts.

The other is Matron dancing around the San to a confiscated record. (There’s another subplot about a ‘dance’ that turns out to be the girls in their uniforms dancing around the common room with some sandwiches and sausage rolls).

So overall all, a couple of slightly disappointing episodes. Matron provided some bright moments, but none of the storylines really moved on. Gwen was magnificent in the first series but hasn’t been given a lot to work with this time, which is a shame.

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4 Responses to Malory Towers on TV series two – Episodes five and six

  1. Lapsed Blyton Fan says:

    Thanks for this. Do stick with it – I felt the second half of this series took off much more strongly than the first, with a lot more Gwen and also some of the odder moments in the first half making sense as foreshadowing. Can’t guarantee you’ll feel the same of course, but I similarly was quite slow at watching through the early episodes but then got much more impatient to see the next one.


  2. Anonymous says:

    (The site seemed to freeze when I posted this, apologies if it comes up twice)

    I echo what LBF says above- a lot of these sub-plots are on slow burns. I won’t say any more to avoid spoilers, but don’t assume that any sub-plots have been resolved at this stage, and please don’t give up on the series.

    One thing I really liked about these episodes was seeing Gwen get a taste of her own medicine- she’s rarely sympathetic to the other girls while simultaneously blagging favours off them, so seeing her get the same treatment from Georgina is quite fun. It’s also a good contrast to season 1 that the 6th former we meet this year isn’t quite the paragon of virtue that Pamela was.

    Personally, I’ve found the characterisation reasonably consistent within the series- Mr Parker in the first couple of episodes notwithstanding. Alicia trying to take the blame for the drawing makes sense- she probably does feel a bit of guilt for getting Mary Lou in trouble (and while still shy, ML has developed and shown some more positive traits, so I think it’s fair to assume that she’s more respected than in the books). A less noble motivation for Alicia is that she fears loss of popularity from the other girls for stitching ML up, so does it to save face.

    I should say I’ve only read synopses of the books, so I’m primarily reacting to the series as it happens, rather than comparing back to the books. On that basis, this was the point where I felt the series picked up and recovered from its stumbling start, but that’s just my 2p worth.


  3. Fiona says:

    Yes – maybe I should have considered that more. Alicia’s behaviour is far more in keeping with the TV version of herself, as she is far less cutting and unpopular on TV!

    I definitely wouldn’t give up on the series but I am glad to know that it gets better.


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