I have already watched and reviewed the 8 episodes of The Adventure Series made in New Zealand. You may have tried to repress this information (I know I have) but they couldn’t make The Castle of Adventure, as the rights weren’t available. Instead they made The Woods of Adventure… a truly awful episode with plots stolen straight from The Secret of Moon Castle and I wouldn’t recommend anyone watch it at all. You can read my review, if you can bear it.
So anyway, the reason the rights were not available in 1996 is that someone else had made their own adaptation of The Castle of Adventure in 1990. I assume they would have started with the first book, Island, but the rights to that were probably still held by the people that made the TV movie of it in 1982.
This series’ title, the original book and a shot from The Woods of Adventure.
THE SERIES IN SHORT
Filmed in Britain and made by TVS there are eight 25-minute episodes. I suspect there might be a fair bit of padding then, I just hope they don’t add things as ridiculous as the New Zealand lot did.
There are a couple of recognisable names in the cast list –
Gareth Hunt – Bill Cunningham
Susan George – Allie Mannering (apparently she was extremely hard to work with!)
Richard Hanson – Philip
Hugo Guthrie – Jack
Rosie Marcel – Dina(h)
Bethany Greenwood – Lucy-Ann
Eileen Hawkes – Tassie
Edward Peel – Mannheim
Both Bill and Allie have been in a lot of things (but nothing I’ve really seen) and Dinah I recognise from Holby City.
As with all adaptations we have some new characters –
Colin Bruce – John Grogan (Mannheim’s co-baddie? One of Bill’s men?)
Richard Heffer – Colonel Yarmouth (Presumably Bill’s boss – Sir George was added to the New Zealand series).
Joan Blackman – School teacher
Terry Bamber – Ticket collector
Brian Blessed – Sam
Richard Ridings – Nico
Corrine Ransome – Rose
Isobel Black – Aunt Jane
These are all, apparently, in all 8 episodes (according to IMDb anyway) but I’m struggling to see who they could all be and how they will fit in. There are another nine characters that are only in one episode, a few officers, one of Bill’s men and some men with only first names.
SO LET’S WATCH THE FIRST EPISODE!
Knowing how long I can go on about these things I think it’s best if I do one episode at a time.
THE START, WITH ALLIE AND BILL
So, this adaptation does not have catchy but cheesy music, just an understated instrumental. What it does have though – is an eagle, flying over a nice big (real) ruined castle. It’s winning points already!
We are introduced to the ‘secret’ military element right away, with a short showing of some anti-tank weapons at a meeting. The speaker tells his audience that it is under testing at a secret location – which of course us Adventure Series experts will know is going to be very close to the castle.
Allie – strangely – is at this meeting and shows off her skill in speaking German before she bumps into Bill.
She seemed surprised to see him there! The two of them obviously know each other, so I can only assume the events of The Island of Adventure have already happened, just not on screen. Bill says it has been two years and asks about Philip and Dinah. I’m surprised at that, really, as you’d think given just how fast and loose various other Blyton adaptations have played with the material they’d have rewritten an introduction to Bill but there you are.
I have to add that Bill is the most un-Bill like you could imagine. Malcolm Jamieson admittedly looks nothing like Bill from the book but he did have a certain James Bondesque look to him (he put me in mind of a less polished Pierce Brosnan). Gareth Hunt, however… my first thought is how much he is like Nigel from Eastenders.
I mean separated at birth or what! Let’s just hope he’s less bumbling-fool and more secret agent when it comes down to it.
They are all at boarding school, one for the boys and one for the girls. Jack and Kiki’s relationship is quickly established – and Jack’s general interest in birds. Philip seems to be portrayed as a bit of a clumsy scatter-brain though – he ‘loses’ their train tickets and accidentally tips a whole suitcase of stuff out. He does have a book on tracking animals though, and Dinah says to Lucy-Ann that Spring Cottage will be surrounded by woods full of animals for Philip.
“Crawling with all sorts of Philip’s furry friends”
“Philip’s good with animals.”
“He’s too good. Frogs in your pockets. Mice in your slippers. Caterpillars down your neck…”
WHAT HAPPENS IN THE EPISODE?
The children take the train from their respective schools and meet Aunt Allie at the station, and she drives them to Spring Cottage.
Philip immediately finds a hedgehog and pockets it, winding Dinah up by pretending it’s a rat. They row a bit and it turns into a physical fight – exactly the sort they would have in the books (well perhaps toned down every so slightly but she does lands a few kicks and smacks on him!).
The castle can be seen from Spring Cottage (doesn’t look quite as good here, but I don’t suppose they were able to get two filming locations within sight of each other) and we see a light flashing in a window – but the girls miss it.
In our first real “padding” Sam (Brian Blessed) turns up and declares himself to be the local rag-and-bone man. He sells them some eggs and stays for a cup of tea.
He tells the children that the castle is uninhabited, and true to Blyton form – that it’s a bad place.
Hangings. Beheadings. Treachery and betrayal. Deceit and devilry.
He strays rather into Robbie Coltrane’s territory at this point! As a gypsy, he had warned the Five about Strange comings and goings in this village. Secrets and signs and threats in Five Go Mad In Dorset back in 1982.
The two are quite similar, in fact. The picture quality is poor so I apologise but here are some images to show you what I mean (you can just about make out that Sam is wearing a hat in one of them…)
After this the boys decide to explore the garden/woods in the general direction of the castle. They’re being watched by a man with binoculars and the episode ends with a tense few minutes of ‘are we being followed?’.
THE SIDE PLOT
Bill only features in the side-plot thus far – he bumped into Allie at the MOD meeting and she tells him where they’re going to be staying.
Next he’s talking to some military man about someone who’s just come into the country, a man of interest. Unfortunately they lost him. In a wash room.
How can you lose someone in a wash room?
It was the er… ladies.
So it’s now up to Bill and his colleagues to track down this chap, who they firmly believe is planning some funny business with this new secret anti-tank thing.
Of course this all ties in nicely because as we see at least twice, the MOD have a place right next to Spring Cottage and the Castle…
HOW DOES IT COMPARE?
I think I’ll end up comparing this to a) the books and b) the New Zealand adaptation. So far it comes out quite favourably on both counts.
Both Jack and Lucy-Ann have red hair (though Lucy-Ann seems just a shade too young in my opinion). I’ve always seen Philip and Dinah as dark-haired and of course they are blonde like Susan George in this but it isn’t an issue – they look alike even if there’s no tuft of hair to give them their nickname.
It’s certainly more modern than the books, it’s set in the early 90s when it was filmed but that isn’t too intrusive. The train’s modern, the car’s modern but there isn’t a silly palm-pilot cropping up everywhere or anything like that.
It stays truer to the book on characterisation than on plot – but they were bound to add things and chop them about given that they’ve made one book into nearly four hours and have started with the second book. Sam seems a bit of a desperate padding for the story but I will reserve judgement to see how they utilise him later. Bill showing up early makes sense, really, as if that stayed true to the book he’d turn up all of a surprise later and we’d not have a clue what was going on (assuming viewers haven’t read the first book). I suppose the actor was happier having more screen time too!
I’m glad Philip’s animals are going to play a bigger part in the story than they did in the New Zealand version, plus the row between him and Dinah was a nice touch. The ‘banter’ between the boys isn’t from the book but they both act quite naturally for Philip and Jack.
My only niggles so far are around the lack of explanations. So far the viewer has not had the relationship of Jack and Lucy-Ann to the Mannerings explained, what business Allie had at an MOD meeting, who Bill is and how they know him, or that they’ve had a previous adventure. I’m sure they’ll imagine that viewers will have read the book(s) but as a stand-alone adaptation some of that should have been taken into consideration.