I have been assured by a couple of different readers that this series improves as it goes on, and having watched episodes seven and eight now I can see some glimmers of hope. Not that this series has been particularly terrible, it just hasn’t seemed as good somehow.
Episode seven: The Play
The slightly random play that they have inserted into the series finally becomes important to the plot, sort of.
The play is being put on in a marquee in the grounds. This is possibly due to Covid and airflow, or due to them not wanting to build a theatre-type set indoors. As many of the scenes around it take place in the grounds which are filmed in England it’s also possible that they didn’t want to fly the various additional actors to Canada to film the indoor scenes there. So far Mrs Lacey, The Riverses and other parents have only been seen outdoors, even in series one.
Anyway, Mr and Mrs Rivers are unable to come when the play is on for the open day, and so Darrell has been asked to give a tour of the school to some people. Were the actors for Darrell’s parents not available, was it Covid restrictions or a deliberate choice I wonder?
Come the day of the play there are actually other pupils seen in the marquee – not many but still a pleasant surprise. We also are graced with Mrs Lacey who is marvellous again, Mr Thomas, Georgina’s father, Mary-Lou’s granny and a surprise tag-along of Felicity Rivers.
Conspicuously absent is Mr Lacey – leaving us still wondering what’s going on there. Mrs Lacey does make a comment about Daddy being terribly busy at the company, and with Gwen making it clear that Darrell and Mary-Lou are not to speak to Mrs Lacey about Mr Lacey I am leaning more heavily on the side of Gwen is lying. There’s also the small matter of Gwen being punished for her performance last term – it seems that her father has stopped her pocket money.
They carry out their final rehearsal – a dress one, on the stage, after the parents have begun to arrive which seems a bit too late!
Meanwhile Matron has found out that the school is in financial trouble, and immediately starts looking for a new job. Like a rat deserting a sinking ship, I said to Stef. Soon after Ellen said the same thing. Ellen is rather distraught at the thought of Matron leaving. I suppose she missed the worst of her behaviour in the previous form and has spent a lot of time in the San where Matron seems to have been reasonably kind to her. Ellen also thinks that Matron could save the school somehow, which seems unlikely given her ineptitude.
Back to the play, or rather the tour Darrell is conducting, which was meant to be for Mr Thomas alone – as he is considering putting money into the school – but Mrs Lacey, Mary-Lou, Granny Margo and Felicity all tag along too.
Felicity puts her foot in it, mentioning the leak in the dorm, and pointing out how cloudy the stream is, and Mary-Lou’s granny has put her foot in it with Mrs Lacey by talking about poor ill Mr Lacey.
Then finally Mrs Lacey puts her feet – literally – in it as she storms off into a great muddy quagmire.
Mr Thomas and Darrell have just rescued her as Felicity then knocks Mr Thomas over into the mud. And naturally he is dressed in a white suit and panama hat as if he’s exploring in an arid climate.
This quagmire is important for a few reasons.
- It has possibly just been raining heavily, but it’s an unexpectedly deep muddy road past what looks like old farm buildings. Is the drainage around there blocked, and will this be relevant with the treasure hunting later? (Probably not).
- It is near the stream which is an unusual colour. At first I thought it was just to make it unattractive and thus give Mr Thomas a bad impression but quickly Stef and I discussed the possibility that there are minerals or something else valuable in the area.
- Mr Thomas getting covered in mud is not really conducive to him coming away with a positive opinion of the school, or investing in it.
- Mrs Lacey loses her brooch in the fuss, which Gwen finds later but does not return.
After all that – Mrs Lacey giving Gwen a good telling off – Gwen runs off and leaves the play short on actors. It seems as if there is only her and Georgina in it anyway – so they are 50% down.
Although Sally has been reading the lines to Gwen as a prompt it is Darrell who is pressed into being the highwayman, with the hat and cloak thrown over her uniform for an absurd look.
Matron has risen admirable to the occasion however and has procured one of Mr Parker’s suits for Mr Thomas to wear, (thus almost justifying having Mr Parker at all), and despite the drama Mr Thomas agrees to invest in the school.
Overall this was a stronger episode, probably down to having a few different faces. I enjoyed the scenes with Mrs Lacey, though I thought Darrell’s sister was an unnecessary addition. It was nice to see her again, but she didn’t really add much to the episode and her behaviour seemed out of character from book Felicity. (Talking about the leak and the cloudy water I can just about understand as she’s young and doesn’t know just how important the tour is, but calling Gwen a cowardly-custard right in front of her mother is just rude.)
Mary-Lou’s granny is a new character and I liked her, particularly her modern way of wearing trousers and driving her own car, when contrasted with Mrs Lacey’s fussy feminine clothing and chauffeur.
I still much prefer the original Miss Grayling as I felt she had much more gravitas, but this one at least gets some fitting lines, for example Only if you trust people can they live up to your faith in them.
Mr Parker was not around for most of the episode but he did get to make a wonderful face of shock when he saw Mr Thomas wearing his suit.
I did say there were more people in the episode but the audience for the play was still rather small. Mam’zelle Rougier is absent, and there are only perhaps ten other girls and three or four adults beyond the named cast. But still, it’s better than I was expecting!
One silly point is that Mrs Lacey rushes up to Georgina and calls her Gwendoline. She has only seen her from behind, but as Georgina has hair several shades darker, and several inches shorter than Gwen, it seems an unlikely mistake!
Episode eight: The Measles
If you think of the measles and Malory Towers you will think of Alicia getting the measles in the fourth form and being unable to sit her school cert, thus learning a tiny bit of humility as she experiences what it could be like if she didn’t have her quick brain.
Moving the measles to the second form (at this rate will there be any plots left for the fourth-sixth form? Are they only intending to do three forms so might as well use up the plots? Or will they just have another play/pantomime and another measles outbreak in a few years time?) means changing the whole storyline.
It’s Georgina who gets the measles, and thus is straight into the San. This means Ellen is booted out as measles has to be isolated.
Mr Parker is also feeling unwell and is put in the San, though he gets Matron’s bed as obviously he can’t be put beside one of the pupils. Gwen also ends up in the San for a while as she has been around Georgina, and Matron can’t read her health certificate to see if she has had it already. But as the San is so small Gwen is put in the bed beside Georgina, where she is just going to increase her chances of catching measles. If she hasn’t had them, then she will have to quarantine for a time but surely that should be separate to Georgina to minimise the risk?
The whole set up is purely so Gwen can overhear Georgina and her father talking. Even though Georgina has measles she’s allowed out into the newly invented San garden (I think that’s where Matron’s summer house might be) to meet him.
Turns out Stef and I were right and – spoilers – there’s a seam of Kaolin china clay running under the school (hence the water colour). Mr Thomas wants to invest in the school so he has enough ownership to demolish it and mine the valuable clay. It seems rather risky to pay out all that money – to invest, and to demolish, when you can’t tell how big the seam is beforehand. It could turn out that it hardly extends under the building at all. All I can think is that there is evidence of a seam before the school was built – but then why doesn’t Miss Grayling or anyone else know about it already?
Mr Parker being ill means they are short a teacher (I mean, there are only the two of them as Miss Potts seems to have disappeared). Mam’zelle Dupont asks Sally to teach her second form class while she goes off to manage the fifth form. Surely this is absolutely the wrong way around? The fifth form should be asked to study quietly (not that they can always be trusted, but more so than a bunch of second formers) while Mam’zelle stays with the second form.
But obviously they wanted to have some tension, because of course Sally does her best to manage the class Alicia immediately starts testing her authority. She wants them to rush through the work then go out and have fun. She then fakes measles spots but Sally catches her out.
Still, Alicia manages to persuade pretty much the whole class to abandon their lesson. It seems a bit out of character for them all to do it, as they know they’ll be in trouble if they’re caught!
Mam’zelle is bizarrely genial about it – Sally attempts to cover for them by saying she let them go as a reward for hard work, but it’s clear Mam’zelle knows this isn’t true. But as the girls say she’s a good sport about it, which is not Mam’zelle Rougier’s style at all!
Gwen meanwhile has behaved in a quite un-Gwen-like way. Georgina attempted to buy her silence by inviting Gwen and her mother to one of their big summer balls, something that Gwen would obviously love to go to. Instead she writes a note to the other girls to say she’s found out something terrible. Of course she could have just written what she knew, but that wouldn’t have drawn the story out so much.
The girls visit the San and Gwen scribbles a second note with more detail and shows them through the glass in the door while Matron snoozes in her chair.
Stupidly, they then go running through the school to talk to Miss Grayling. They are not allowed to run in the school, and so when Mam’zelle sees them, she stops them. If they has just walked she wouldn’t have stopped them. As she did stop them, she hears the news first and tells them that she will speak to Miss Grayling. But she doesn’t, as it has come from Gwen she assumes it’s a lie.
Lastly, Gwen carries on her strange behaviour by stealing Georgina’s pocket mirror. The shilling I wasn’t sure about – it looked like she might have kept it but didn’t, but I should have twigged. As there’s no Daphne they are making Gwen the thief. I thought she had kept her mother’s brooch purely out of spite, but it’s part of a pattern.
I’m not at all sure about this. It was one thing for Daphne, who had stolen at previous schools, who clearly had a problem with lying about her family and how wealthy they are, to steal, but Gwen? Isn’t Gwen mean and unlikeable enough without being a thief? Daphne they forgave and she turned into a nice person. If they forgive Gwen, she’s not suddenly going to reform into a nice person is she?
I assume they’ll make it about Gwen not having pocket money, and being used to having nice things, but I’m not sure that’s enough. Gwen’s not stupid – she knows she can’t swan around with someone else’s compact or a real emerald brooch without drawing attention to herself.
Somehow they are managing to make Gwen a more sympathetic character this series, despite a few classically nasty moments. Her mother is pretty awful to her in episode 7, and you can see Gwen’s scrambling around trying to win her approval. Then she decides to save the school over furthering her social climbing, so maybe there’s hope for her yet.
A couple of other niggles – in the San Matron gives Mr Parker a play she’s written. It turns out to be about a school matron (I wonder who could possibly have been her inspiration?) but it turns out to be not very good. This is quite funny but left me wondering. In The Sea of Adventure the Mannering-Trents had measles and needed a break after to recover. Dinah in particular is to do no school work as she ignored the doctors’ orders and read while she was ill, leaving her with watery and light-sensitive eyes (which miraculously recover by the time they’re out on the boat in the sun). A common symptom of measles is red, sore and sensitive eyes, so following on from the above I’ve always assumed that the advice in the 40s and 50s was to avoid reading. But was that only in cases where the person’s eyes were already sore? Does anyone have any personal experience of measles in the 1940s or 50s and recall the advice given?
Aside from that the San set up is sorely lacking, I assume due to budgetary reasons. In the book each tower had a matron who was responsible for the girls’ day to day cleanliness, health and behaviour. She made sure they darned their socks and kept their rooms tidy and so on. I think we can assume that the TV school also has four matrons and four towers, even if we never see the others. The San, however, was a much larger place than shown on TV, with a Sister running it. That way she could give 24 hour care to any sick girls, while the matrons managed the rest of the girls. The San on TV is not exactly designed for isolating any sick girls, should one be contagious and another be there for something else.
I can see now that they are setting up a second urgent need to find Lady Jane’s treasure, not just to stop the school from closing, but to stop it from being demolished! There will also be a reveal of Gwen the thief, which I hope will have a convincing story behind it. I’m not clear what role Ellen will play in everything as it seems as if her story has already been resolved, but we will see.
I remember reading a book on Malory Towers. Wonderful 😊
Thanks for this. Again without spoiling later episodes, that’s the basic direction they go with Gwen this series: she does the right thing here when there’s a clear, rational temptation to be bad, but then can’t resist being bad in an immature, irrational way. The play was all a bit odd in the end – would probably have been more accurate to trail it as a skit or sketch rather than a full play!
On a couple of your other points:
1) The interior scenes are all filmed in Toronto. The exterior scenes are all filmed at Hartland Abbey, North Devon, except for the swimming pool, which is in Bude, Cornwall. Though after a fleeting appearance in the first episode, I don’t think the pool reappears this series. So yes, they will generally have avoided flying guest actors over, though there’s an episode coming up where guests appear both inside and outside, so I’m not sure how that was done.
2) I understand they have a stand-in cast, for when they need to rehearse a scene but some actors aren’t around (I’m not quite clear how it works), and those people are also the extras. Which is why there were a few extras this series, filmed within a Covid bubble, but only a few.
3) I think they’re hoping to do a full six series but that’s far from guaranteed. The Baby-Sitters’ Club, the closest to an American equivalent, has just been cancelled by Netflix after two series, despite getting solid audiences and critical reception. So, they can’t afford to hold too many plotlines back in the assumption they’ll get to do them later.
Thanks for the additional insight into the filming. I was disappointed when the Baby-Sitters’ Club was cancelled, but I thought their second season was poorer in comparison to season one, than series two of Malory Towers was to series one. A third season might have been where it picked up again, but equally it could have declined further.
I watched the first season of the BSC but haven’t bothered with the second. I thought it was quite good but more formulaic than MT, like, every character has one problem and every problem has one simple solution. I understand they’re not meant to age in the BSC, so a third season would have been the last anyway before the cast got too old.
Totally unrelated but an idea for your “If you liked…” series is the Brambly Hedge books. The stories on their own are nothing much but I absolutely adored the illustrations, which create an entire miniature world.
The BSC definitely didn’t age in the books – they were 13 (or 11) perpetually, despite there being definitely more than one Christmas, summer vacation, and so on in the series. Not so easy to do on screen!
I would say the books are fairly formulaic as well. I have to skip the who’s who of the club if I’m rereading them because it’s just a whole chapter of the same thing, there’s only so many ways to describe the girls’ looks and main interests. Beyond that every book had either a project (a baby parade, a holiday camp, a fund-raiser etc) or a problem (a new family with out of control kids, a kid about to get a new sibling, parents getting divorced) and by the end the project was a success or the problem had been resolved.
I’ve never heard of the Brambly Hedge books – they look rather Beatrix Potter-ish though!
There are quite a few book and TV series where the first one you read/watch seems great, then you realise they’re all the same formula over and over – the 60’s Batman is another like that.
Brambly Hedge books were popular when they came out in the 80s but are largely forgotten now, which is a shame. Jill Barklem will definitely have taken inspiration from Beatrix Potter, but they’re very gentle (BP stories sometimes have a cruel edge). Her trademark illustration was hugely detailed cross-sections of the residences and workshops the mice have built into trees and banks, which you can spend hours looking at.
Stop mentioning Covid all the time. This is meant to be a positive thing to take our minds of that why are people always bringing up Covid even when it’s not relevant
Of course it is relevant if rules and regulations affected filming.
If you don’t like that then you can stop reading any time you like.
Sorry dont know if that comment