ONE of the TV highlights of the year arrives on BBC4 next Monday.
Enid won’t win massive ratings.
But I’d urge you to forget celebs in the jungle or Life as BBC1 knows it.
And treat yourself to this superb 90-minute film.
It stars Helena Bonham Carter as Noddy and Famous Five author Enid Blyton.
You can read my interview with Helena in today’s MEN here.
For those who want even more, below are lashings of extracts which didn’t make the final cut.
As ever, please let me know what you think of the film – and your views on Helena, Enid Blyton, ginger beer…
What attracted Helena to the role?
“It was a wonderful part. It’s wonderfully rich and multi-dimensional and I had so many things to play. You very rarely get well-written parts. The whole script was great. It’s sort of ironic. I always find the better the script, the less money you have to do it and less time. The whole thing was done in 16 days and it’s one of the best scripts I’d read in a long time.”
On Enid re-writing her life:
“When Bobs the dog dies, he didn’t die. She just didn’t accept that he died. So she carried on writing letters from Bobs to all her friends – he wrote letters, the dog, you see. She wrote a column – a dog blog – and she wrote letters from Bobs. Bob just never died.
“Equally her mother, who she hated, she killed off at a really early age. So she told everyone that she’d died. In fact, she was alive. She died about 30 years later.”
Not a lot of archive film exists of Blyton?
“No, there’s about 30 seconds. Bizarrely, because she was unbelievably famous. There was a bit on the radio, yes, I did listen to that. She had quite a high voice, much higher than me. But I didn’t think there was much point in attempting to do an impersonation because, for one thing, she wasn’t commonly publicly known vocally and visually. But I did the walk. Her head, I think, was going all the time and very, very quickly. She wrote very, very quickly and speed was innate to her. And vigour. She was unbelievably vital.
“Somebody wrote and said that she met her and it wasn’t like she was physically pretty but she was so alive and so vital. And there’s also muscularity to do with the age. People spoke with the consonants and those consonants gave you energy and there was a burst, there was a real vigour and verve. Just to remember to observe those ‘ts’ and ‘ds’.
“I only had three weeks prep for two weeks. So I read Imogen’s book from which most of this story is taken. And I did make copious notes. I believed that she did have a gait that was more leaning forwards.”
Helena managed to forge Blyton’s signature from the first rehearsal:
“My aunt, she’s a graphologist, she’d have a lot to say about this. And I know somebody with very similar handwriting to her but, in fact, less sophisticated. She’d analyse it to hell. It’s very rounded and quite naïve. But it was quite sophisticated, nevertheless. That became her brand. She was a businesswoman. She became very aware that she had a brand, and then the whole thing of being very aware of the media and press. She had to present the perfect family, live up to the world that she created. And when it started crumbling, when her perfect family ceased to be perfect, then she had to quickly get rid of him (her first husband Hugh) and bring in Kenneth, father number two.”
Was she surprised at how distant Enid’s relationship was with her own two children?
“I was working non-stop and thinking, ‘I see my children one hour a day,’ which a lot of parents don’t every single day…see their child for an hour a day, on their own.
“She was shocked at how bad she was. But to be honest, I suspect she had some kind of post-natal depression too with Imogen. She couldn’t bond with her. She was floored as to how to look after her. She was a difficult baby and it got off to a very rocky start. The marriage was breaking down too, the father was drinking and she had huge demands on her work.
“Classically, nowadays, what we’re told by our books and our ante-natal support books – you give up work when you have a baby, you don’t just carry on. And she didn’t. She just demanded of herself that she carried on, had a baby, popped it in a cupboard and carry on writing. And it all fell apart.”
Will this film resonate with working women?
“I think working women, hugely…can you ever achieve a balance? I think you get snatches of bones of balance. And divorce. Children who have been abandoned, being a result of divorce – Enid was a victim of divorce. And then not being able to perform as a parent herself. The legacy of marital discord.”
How does Helena balance her own life?
“It’s just the question I was asked as Enid in that press or radio scene. She says, ‘Of course children need their mothers. Mothers are the heart of any household.’ That’s exactly Enid’s line. ‘And I try my best to spend as much time with my girls as I possibly can, also fulfilling my professional duties. It’s tricky but I think I manage it.’
“You do what you can. I went on an ante-natal group and the one big message – and it was an ante-natal group that were mostly working mothers – so the father, who was some therapist, said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t give up your job because ultimately you can’t give up yourself to your children.’ Because when they leave, what are you going to be left with? They presume you want your children to grow up and work and earn their own living and you want to be an example. Don’t give up all of yourself because you end up resenting them.
“Tim (her film director partner Tim Burton) goes away, he comes back. Kids are going to always hate you for leaving. And you pay for it. But then I have a lovely holiday when I’m at work. Yeah, that’s why I do it. I think it’s called a rest…a miscarriage this morning, then followed by divorce, then senile dementia. Yes, it’s lovely…your father’s abandoned you. OK, write Noddy…that was my day’s work as Enid. All before lunch. After lunch, kiss someone you don’t know. I love doing this.”
Moving from movies to BBC4:
“I don’t do it for the money. I’m in a lucky position not to have to do it because I’m a kept woman by Tim. Not really – I have my own house and so on. I’ll do anything. I’ll do radio or whatever the medium, as long as it’s good writing or there’s a part there. That’s what I do it for. I don’t think, ‘Oh, how many people will see this?’ Frankly, I’d prefer no-one to see anything that I do. I like doing it and then that would be fine by me.”
Was the tight shooting schedule a problem?
“Not when it comes to acting. I’d do everything in 16 days. On the whole, I’d say it benefitted me as an actor. It helps with your momentum. You don’t get ‘option-itise’ because you just have to do it the one way, because you’ve got no time. I think a lot of the time it’s like that book Blink, you just choose the thing that if you had millions of money you’d end up doing in the first place. You don’t get paralysed by all the different options. Having no choice is really liberating. It’s like, let’s all write it by lunchtime.”
Are her children fans of Enid Blyton?
“I read Noddy to Billy, whether he likes it or not. And he does like it and I find it really pleasurable to read. And all the things that people later criticised her for, the repetitive and simple language, well he loves it because he understands it and he can read it. And they’re really short chapters, which are really good when you’re putting your children to bed. So I’ve enjoyed it. She’s clever. She said, ‘I capture my audience young.’ She started at three or four, then she took them up to 13 and then that was it. She wrote for different ages.”
What about the allegations that her books were racist and sexist?
“They’ve all been cut. All the stuff that people found offensive, the racism has been cut, they had to take out all the gollywog references. But I really don’t think she was racist. It was a sign of her time that gollywog was…well, there’s a whole argument and it’s very difficult to talk about it…so I don’t really want to go there. And the sexism? George was a character that she basically based on herself, the tomboy. She didn’t write just female stereotypes. She was George.
“When you write for very young children, they want something that’s so familiar and safe and very stereotyped. They just want to know where they are because it’s so incredibly new, the world. It’s like every single minute they’re getting something new. So when they have to relax and just switch their brains off and not have any information, they just want to be very clear and black and white. Something unbelievably simple. The proof is in the pudding. People still read her and she’s still published.”
Helena said she liked the idea that children could have the adventures they read about in the books. “There’s a huge amount of nostalgia. There’s even a book that I got myself called The Famous Five’s Survival Guide. All those books are coming out now, like The Dangerous Book For Boys. There’s a huge clutch of people going, ‘Well, hang on, let’s go back to this so-called normal childhood that we had.’ Outdoor things.”
Today the idea of playing outdoors is a fantasy in itself?
“It is tragic. It’s pathetic because it doesn’t cost anything. And it’s available. It’s not like trees have stopped growing. And it’s healthy.”
Did she feel any extra pressure playing a real person?
“You always do feel an extra responsibility. You feel like there’s a moral responsibility to get your facts right. There is that, yes, and you don’t want to offend anyone. So I was pretty aware of Imogen’s feelings. And also, she’s not in a position to defend herself. For the people who watch this, they’ll go, ‘Oh, that’s what she was like.’ But it’s just our version. It’s not the truth.”
“My job was certainly not to judge her. My own interest in portraying her was the many aspects and understanding her, trying to understand what it would have been like, to be given those circumstances, what happened to her and her reaction to that. I hope people’s response when they watch it will be that they really don’t know what to feel – or just to understand her.”
Enid is on BBC4 at 9pm on Monday