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The Famous Five review – this Enid Blyton adaptation feels oddly like the Da Vinci Code
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The Famous Five review – this Enid Blyton adaptation feels oddly like the Da Vinci Code


Grown-ups are not very smart. They often ignore their children’s warnings about the dangers of strangers. In this full-length movie based on Enid Blyton’s first Famous Five book, George cries out to her parents, “That man is a crazy maniac who trapped us in a crypt!”

George’s mother states that she has no interest in hearing what he has to say. She also tells him that he needs to mature and that is the final word on the matter.

Wow, George’s mother. Are you aware that your daughter and her cousins, Julian, Anne, and Dick, along with their dog Timmy, have successfully escaped from the crypt at the Temple Church in London by digging a hole to a nearby Tube platform? And now they are attempting to stop an egotistical and power-hungry villain named Wentworth (played by Jack Gleeson, who is even more menacing than his role as boy-king Joffrey Baratheon in Game of Thrones) from taking a mystical object from an island in Dorset? No? Well, George’s mother, you should be.

George’s mustached foe believes that there is treasure hidden in the 12th-century Knights Templar church on Kirrin Island. This treasure is believed to have been stolen during the Crusades from a church in Syria. The enemy believes that once he obtains this treasure, he will gain the ability to see into the future. This power will not only allow him to predict the winner of a horse race, but also to control the world.

I do not recall any of these details from my previous readings of the 1942 Enid Blyton novel. Not when I first read it as a child, nor when I read it to my daughter ten years ago. Writer Matthew Read has expanded upon the imaginative world of Blyton’s novel by including references to Indiana Jones, Moonfleet, Swallows and Amazons, and, unfortunately, Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. With the help of producer Nicolas Winding Refn, they have freed the Famous Five from the excessive use of whimsy. The story is portrayed seriously, which ultimately makes it even more absurd.

The only thing I recall from the books that relates to this is that George disliked being referred to as Georgina. “I am not,” she tells an adult, “a young girl.” However, no one deems it necessary to respond, “George, my friend, you can be whoever you want.”

Diaana Babnicova portrays George as a bold and independent girl, with a rebellious attitude and a pair of sneakers that may not have been historically accurate for 1940s England. Upon arriving in Dorset for the summer, one of her snobbish cousins questions her name, to which George responds with a threat of physical violence. This exchange is not present in the original novel. While the story takes place in 1942, the dialogue seems more modern.

A reviewer has already labeled this as an extremely dull journey, which appears to be unkind. However, considering that the series is being reinvented by Winding Refn, known for gritty Danish drug-related stories and his film about Ryan Gosling’s escape driver, one might have anticipated something more flashy and less heavy. Apart from the opening titles that may cause viewers’ eyes to ache, this retelling of Blyton’s work is relatively subdued compared to Refn’s other works – except for his surprising directorial venture into a Miss Marple adaptation.

Critics often criticize Blyton for her racist and sexist themes. The biopic featuring Helena Bonham Carter portrays her as more unpleasant than the villains in her books. However, in this instance, the patriarchy is subtly challenged as George is shown to be the leader of the Famous Five instead of Julian. When Dick needs to translate an inscription on a Templar goblet, he asks George if her father has a Latin dictionary. Surprisingly, it is George’s mother who has one. Additionally, George is portrayed as a black character, which goes against Blyton’s beliefs. Despite the story taking place in 1942, it adheres to modern diversity standards.

Even better, this adaptation of Blyton’s work, similar to Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone, can be interpreted as a cautionary tale about the consequences of British greed for taking items from other cultures. This gives it a surprisingly relevant message. The episode, The Curse of Kirrin Island, should be required viewing for figures like George Osborne and leaders of the British Museum, as well as anyone who believes that taking foreign artifacts is morally acceptable.

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By the conclusion of the episode, Wentworth, despite being an adult, has not gained any knowledge. Instead, he continues to devise plans for world domination, setting the stage for a sequel where he will likely be outsmarted by four fearless children and their equally clever dog. Adults can be quite foolish.

  • The popular series, The Famous Five, was broadcasted on BBC One and can now be streamed on iPlayer in the UK or on Stan in Australia.

Source: theguardian.com