“A wonderful occurrence”: The well-known group of five is returning – all thanks to an extremely violent director.
When it was revealed that Nicolas Winding Refn, known for his controversial films Pusher and Drive, would be involved in the production of the BBC’s remake of The Famous Five, it caused quite a stir among members of the Enid Blyton Society.
The Danish director is updating the tales of Julian, Dick, Anne, George, and their dog Timmy for a modern audience. While he is known for his intense violence in previous films and has even referred to himself as a “pornographer,” he has won awards at Cannes and promises something enchanting for the holiday season.
Reworded: Winding Refn, who has previously directed two episodes of Agatha Christie’s Marple for ITV, has experience in adapting works by classic British female authors for television. Along with his longtime collaborator Matthew Read, who has worked on projects such as “And Then There Were None” and “Peaky Blinders”, they are both at a point in their lives where they want to create something that their children could enjoy.
The Famous Five appealed to the 53-year-old for its concept of eternal youth. He expresses a hint of nostalgia, stating, “As adults, we often forget the beauty of childhood and how even the simplest things can hold great significance. Life becomes so complex as we age.”
The main focus was: how can we transform The Famous Five from just a thrilling plot into something more fantastical? Something enchanting and meaningful on a deeper philosophical level?
Nearly ten years ago, the concept arose during a visit by Read to his friend in Los Angeles. One of Winding Refn’s daughters happened to be reading The Famous Five at the time. A couple of years later, Read successfully acquired the rights.
Fans of Blyton’s work can rest assured that the new series takes place in the 1940s and features elements of magic and excitement. Along with a vibrant intro, synth music, and a trippy scene, Refn drew inspiration from a variety of sources, including Indiana Jones, Alfred Hitchcock, and Greek tragedies.
According to Read, who wrote the first episode, it was important for the story to take place during the same time period it was written. This decision also adds to the dramatic effect since the characters cannot easily access information or communicate via the internet or mobile phones.
Rewording: Refn discusses the impact of screens on children, stating that as a parent, he often debates about their screen time and how it affects them. While he personally enjoys screens, he also acknowledges the potential dangers they pose for children.
According to Winding Refn, revisiting the events of World War II allows the show to remain current and relatable, as it touches on universal themes that transcend passing trends and fleeting technology.
In today’s fast-paced world, it can be difficult to truly experience a moment. However, by revisiting the past, we have the opportunity to capture a sense of imagination and fantasy.
The younger actors in the production believe that their peers will appreciate the freedom and absence of technology. Kit Rakusen, who portrays the wise character Dick, states: “No one is obsessed with their phone and everyone simply goes out, whereas nowadays everyone is attached to their phones.” Elliott Rose (playing the reliable Julian) hopes that the performance will “motivate individuals, especially younger viewers, to venture outdoors and embark on adventures.”
In the upcoming year 2023, the version will contain elements of magic realism and edginess. According to Winding Refn, the music adds a playful feel to the show, and the fashion choices make it relatable to today’s youth.
However, the trio of 90-minute episodes also possess a sense of danger and intrigue, largely due to the presence of Jack Gleeson, known for his role in Game of Thrones. He was chosen to play the Moriarty-esque antagonist Thomas Wentworth in part because he resembled malevolent characters from 1940s cinema. In fact, his portrayal of evil was so convincing that when Wentworth imprisoned the Famous Five in an old tomb, the cast members admit to feeling genuinely frightened.
According to Read, the Blyton estate has been very supportive of the show. Some younger viewers may find the names Fanny and Dick amusing, but Winding Refn and Read are not concerned with debates over language used by authors from the past (such as the recent controversy surrounding Roald Dahl’s books) and do not address these issues.
While their creation’s language is not at the level satirised in Channel 4’s The Comic Strip Presents … comedies Five Go Mad in Dorset and Five Go Mad on Mescalin in the 1980s, there are nods to the past. Flora Jacoby Richardson, who plays Anne, explains: “I had to say ‘Oh, my goodness’ instead of ‘Oh my God’”.
The concepts of gender and identity have evolved since the introduction of the “tomboy” character George by Blyton. Diaana Babnicova, who portrays George, reveals that she and Read had many discussions about gender. While they wanted to preserve this aspect of George’s character, they also aimed to highlight other qualities that are more intriguing.
Refn states, “Our interpretation of The Famous Five is a celebration of individuality. It urges one to not conform and go against societal expectations in behavior and actions.”
“Why is being normal considered desirable? George is deeply influenced by my youngest daughter, who questions the idea of conformity and blindly following society’s expectations. If I could offer one piece of advice to any child, it would be to always stay true to themselves and not conform to others’ standards.”
Blyton’s 21 original books serve as the foundation for three new episodes, which incorporate elements from mythology and history. The holiday special, titled “The Curse of Kirrin Island,” centers around a plot involving the Knights Templar, a hidden treasure, and an engraved goblet. However, there is also plenty of comedic relief, notably from the character Boswell and a playful reference to the Famous Five’s love for ginger beer. It remains to be seen if this beloved drink will be offered as merchandise for the Famous Five franchise.
The filming occurred in Cornwall and Wales, providing a beautiful and sunny backdrop that made Jacoby Richardson exclaim, “It’s like we’re in Greece!” Babnicova also shared the sentiment, comparing it to a real-life version of Mamma Mia! During breaks, both Richardson and Babnicova would even perform dance routines.
Kip, a bearded collie mix, played the role of Timmy and did an excellent job, except for one incident when he needed to take care of his business – Babnicova recalls how he refused to eat some biscuits in a scene.
However, Winding Refn is determined to challenge the commonly held belief in the TV industry that working with children and animals is difficult. He believes that these young actors bring a genuine and joyful energy to the set, making each day of filming a joy. In his opinion, having four children and a dog on set is an ideal situation.
Often, activities involving children can seem like an afterthought, simply there to stimulate their senses and keep them busy. This is a terrible mindset to have, as our children are the most valuable aspect of our world – they are meant to improve it for us.
The statement states that adults have caused problems in the world, and that children must learn to defend themselves. The Famous Five embodies this message.
Rewording: Refn hopes the show will also be appealing to adults, recognizing that they also have a childlike sense of wonder when watching TV or reading a book. He believes that adults also go on adventures, but are often taught to be more reserved about it, which he finds dull.
On December 9th, The Famous Five: The Curse of Kirrin Island will be airing on CBBC and iPlayer, and on New Year’s Eve, it will be broadcasted on BBC One.