It’s great to see a third series of this; although, during the second episode, I felt as if I’d somehow wandered out of Malory Towers and into Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. It’s definitely no from a purist viewpoint. Enid Blyton most assuredly never had Matron giving PSHE lessons and Gwendoline explaining “women’s things” to Mary Lou. And even Judy Blume never wrote about a headmistress telling her pupils that she was menopausal (Miss Grayling is famed for her speeches, but that was a new one!), or a boy making suggestions about how to ease menstrual cramps and saying that his mum had said that he had to understand what happened to girls! But there was plenty of other stuff going on and it’s definitely yes from an entertainment viewpoint; and, bearing in mind that this is aimed at children, it’s also yes from an educational viewpoint.
And I love the location! I’m not sure that I ever imagined Malory Towers as a stately home, but logically it must have been one – no-one would have designed such a fancy place as a purpose-built school – and the interior, exterior and grounds are all gorgeous.
The cast is very small, which I assume is due to budgetary constraints. Alicia and Sally have both disappeared. Sally is missing for the early part of the third book anyway, so maybe she’ll feature in some of the episodes, but Alicia has gone off to be an ice-skater, in a storyline which seems to have crossed over from Noel Streatfeild. However, we’ve got a new form mistress, Miss Johnson, who isn’t in the books. And, of the new girls in the third book, we’ve got Bill, but we haven’t got either Zerelda or Mavis.
It looks as if Miss Johnson may play the role of the sophisticated person admired by Gwendoline, and I’m not sure what’s going to happen with the Mavis singing/running off storylines.
The storylines in the books aren’t enough for each book to make 6 hours of TV, so extra material’s been added in. We’ve got something about strange noises in the stables – inspiring Darrell to tell ghost stories, an idea which I associate with Jo Returns to the Chalet School rather than any Blyton books – and something about Gwendoline’s dad being on the Board of Governors. And, as already mentioned, we’ve got PSHE. I know that it doesn’t suit purists, and it irks me a bit too; but there just wouldn’t be enough of a story otherwise.
Although it’s Mavis who gets the big drama, Bill is probably the key character in Third Year at Malory Towers from a present day fandom viewpoint. There’s been a lot of debate about her relationship with Clarissa, who isn’t in this series as she didn’t join the school until the fourth year (incorrectly and confusingly described by Blyton as Upper Fourth, when the Upper Fourth form is actually the third year!); and some people also consider that both Bill and the Famous Five‘s George Kirrin are transgender. The BBC have taken the same approach to Bill as I do – she’s definitely a girl, but she’s not interested in being a girly girl who fusses about her appearance, and she probably envies boys because they had more freedom than girls. George is another matter, but George isn’t relevant here.
Tomboy Bill’s close relationship with delicate Clarissa quite possibly is intended to be romantic. We don’t know that for certain, but I’ve read articles by people who said that it meant a lot to them to think that Enid Blyton had included a same sex couple in the books (as well as Miss Peters, who is pretty clearly if rather clumsily meant to be a lesbian), and it’s something that everyone should interpret in their own way. In this book, though, Bill’s main role is to be obsessed with horses, and that’s what the BBC are showing.
And, whilst I might have made it sound as if this is nothing like the books, there’s plenty of classic Blyton stuff there too. Lacrosse trials, Irene forgetting her health certificate, and I’m sure we’ll get some swimming pool and midnight feast action at some point: I’m only two episodes in.
Overall, as I’ve said, not for the purists, but very entertaining.