Last Night's Television - I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here! ITV1; The Queen in 3D, Channel 4; Enid, BBC4
Stranger than fiction
Tuesday 17 November 2009
There was always the suggestion that Enid Blyton's cuddly image and jaunty signature concealed something to taint the raspberry jelly and ginger beer. Those with only scant knowledge (me) might have been vaguely aware of marital strife and accusations of racism – she liked a golliwog, did Enid. But who knew the brains behind Noddy and the Famous Five was such a massive, well, bitch. Harsh words, but it was tough not to feel antipathy towards Blyton in BBC4's
Enid. The sober biopic barely touched on the racism – an oblique reference during a row with husband number one – but it was unsparing in its portrayal of Blyton as a selfish, deluded, vindictive egomaniac. Or, as the writer's daughter, Imogen, put it in a recent interview: "My mother was arrogant, insecure and without a trace of maternal instinct."
Blyton, played with compelling brittleness by Helena Bonham Carter, loved kids. "I only care about children because they will always love my books," she told a radio interviewer. "I understand what they want." But what of her own offspring? When a group of competition winners visited the house for a Famous Five tea party, Imogen and her sister, Gillian, watched secretly from the stairs as their mother presided over jelly eating and games playing with a gusto they had seldom seen.
Blyton's first husband got it worse. By the time she had divorced Hugh (Matthew Macfadyen), the author had already shacked up with a married surgeon called Kenneth (Denis Lawson), who she would later wed. Not content just to cast Hugh out of the home, Blyton airbrushed him from her children's lives and, in perhaps her cruellest act, saw to it that he lost his job.
No doubt, then, that Blyton was unpleasant, but in exploring the reasons, Enid faced the challenge of all biopics, that of squeezingitallin. Early in a dizzying opening 15 minutes that charted her childhood, we saw Blyton, aged about 10, telling stories to her brothers to shut out her parents' rowing. Her father walked out and Blyton soon left home for a new life of fan mail and fiction (she pretended her mother was dead for 30 years).
It seemed like a reasonably rough upbringing, but, perhaps as a result of the express treatment, it didn't look bad enough to justify the horridness. There were stronger clues when an adult Blyton saw a doctor about her inability to conceive. He told her that she had the uterus of a 12-year-old, which seemed approximately to match her emotional maturity. She could "understand" what her readers wanted because she'd never really grown up. And 12-year-olds tend not to make good mothers.
Enid closed with a scene in which an ageing but beaming Blyton read to a group of school children. But her face dropped when the pupils left and the camera drew out to reveal a woman at sea, no more able to thrive in the real world than she could enter the realm of her wholesome and hugely saleable fantasies. And so, ultimately, antipathy gave way to pity.
The young Elizabeth was a sight for sore eyes in Channel 4's The Queen in 3D. But for me that was the problem. "How you experience the 3D effect on these images at home may vary from person to person," I had been warned by the chap who does the voiceover for The Apprentice, but he didn't tell me it might make my brain hurt.
Shot by two young documentary-makers now in their eighties, Bob Angell and Arthur Wooster, the forgotten film of the 1953 Coronation had been canned when interest in the 3D fad waned (it had flourished since the Victorian era – the other Queen's Brian May popped up, rather incongruously, as the world's leading collector of stereoscope slides).
The footage was illuminating enough, casting the Queen in a flattering light and providing a crisp alternative to the BBC's grainy, monochrome newsreel. But watching TV through flimsy cardboard glasses (helpfully dispensed by Sainsbury's) has never been a satisfying experience. Or maybe it's just me.
I missed last night's I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! Not because it went out too late to make this paper, but because I'd watched it on Sunday night – and that was enough. The show's brilliance – I've enjoyed it in the past – has been to throw together nonentities who by some weird alchemy make great telly. But that requires a collection of tokens – a token comedian, a token Yank, a token hottie, a token toff, and a pair of token breasts. I could only spot one on Sunday – George Hamilton (the American). No toff, no comedian, no hottie. The breasts were due to swing into the jungle last night – Katie Price aka Jordan told us: "The fairytale has ended and I'm going in for closure." Good luck to her. Perhaps ITV1 sees something in its cast that passed me by, or, after nine series of bitchiness and bollock-eating, has the franchise run its course? Even the perennially perky Ant and Dec looked a bit tired.
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