Page last updated at 08:58 GMT, Monday, 16 November 2009

Bonham Carter's Blyton adventure

By Emma Saunders
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Helena Bonham Carter
Bonham Carter says Enid Blyton was not a big part of her own childhood

Children's author Enid Blyton has been enjoying something of a renaissance of late.

After years of being deemed unfashionable and politically incorrect, Blyton was named Britain's best-loved author last year in a poll for the Costa Book Award, beating the likes of JK Rowling, Jane Austen and William Shakespeare.

The writer is now being brought to the small screen courtesy of actress Helena Bonham Carter in a BBC Four biopic simply titled Enid.

So why was Bonham Carter attracted to a low-budget, tightly-scheduled drama only appearing on a digital channel?

"Any actor is lucky to get a half-decent, well-written script, with a character so rich in dimensions and contradictions," says the actress.

"I recognised a lot of her in me. I am a bit of a forever child and she is definitely someone who decided not to grow up. I am definitely one of those - I only decided to move out of home when I was 30," she says.

Enid Blyton courtesy of the Hulton Archive
Writing was a compulsion for Blyton, pictured here in 1949

The docu-drama offers an unflinching view of Blyton although it is far from a hatchet job - it details the author's difficult childhood, which helps to explain her often bizarre behaviour as an adult.

Blyton's parents had an unhappy marriage which ended when she was 13 - her beloved father left the family home and moved in with another woman. Blyton, although she did visit her father infrequently, never really recovered from her loss.

Speedy shoot

"The ability to escape, to live imaginatively, was a way of coping when her father left. She invented a world that was comfortable and enchanted, she helped a lot of children as a result," says Bonham Carter.

"I have a lot of friends who say 'she saved my childhood' or 'she helped me survive my childhood because I escaped to her world,'" says the actress.

She was cast just 10 days before shooting began, it was filmed in 16 days and edited in eight days.

Bonham Carter says the pace is the opposite to filming the likes of a big budget movie like Harry Potter, with less hanging around: "Although there are benefits - you get paid more."

Many of the period costumes were loaned to the production by the actress herself.

Matthew Mcfayden and Helena Bonham Carter
Blyton put an end to her first husband's career when their marriage broke up

"I was even paid a rental fee, practically more than I was paid as an actor."

Bonham Carter says the speed of filming emulated Blyton's work rate - she wrote around 700 books during her career.

The film begins with Blyton as a girl (played by Alexandra Brain), who watches her family disintegrate when her father leaves.

When Blyton later found she had fertility problems, it emerged her womb had stopped developing at the age she when her father moved out, suggesting the pyschological trauma had manifested itself physically.

"Any by-proxy relationship she was marvellous at but she couldn't really deal with people that close to her for fear she was unlovable because her father left... and she never got on with her mother," says Bonham Carter.

Fast pace

Indeed the film portrays Blyton as an inadequate mother to her two daughters, Gillian and Imogen.

Several scenes show her brushing off her children as though they are an irritation at best. In one scene, she invites competition winners to come for a tea party at her home but refuses to let her own children attend.

"She was always wearing a watch, she never had time," says Bonham Carter.

"Most of her life was an interruption to her work, her writing was a compulsion, almost pathological."

The actress also describes Blyton as "a feminist".

Sinead Malcolm and Ramona Marquez with Helena Bonham Carter
Blyton's daughters appear to be on the periphery of their mother's life

"She was a very efficient business woman who negotiated huge amounts of royalties... she was very canny".

Blyton married twice - first to publisher Hugh Pollock, who was the father of her two daughters. Their already fragile marriage fell apart after Pollock was posted to Surrey during World War II.

"The break-up wasn't particularly acrimonious," says Matthew Mcfayden who plays Pollock, "but she was callous, she stopped him working (by telling publishers not to employ him)."

She also stopped him seeing the girls - ironic given her trauma over the broken relationship with her own father.

The cast also includes Denis Lawson as Blyton's second husband, Kenneth Darrell Waters, and Outnumbered actress Ramona Marquez, who plays her daughter Imogen.

Blyton comes across as a woman of contradiction - a brilliant creative force but an inadequate parent, often needy and childlike but with a ruthless streak in both her personal and work life, a huge capacity for love with her second husband yet cold with her children.

The public will always know her best for her moral adventure stories but this drama puts the spotlight on a feminist who was simply way ahead of her time.

Enid can be seen on BBC Four at 2100 GMT on Monday 16 November.



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