Andy Peck is transported back to a wholly different time and world in a modern rendering of a classic children’s author

The films: The Famous Five: The curse of the Kirrin Island

Others connected:  The first of three, the others released in 2024. 

Running time: 90 minutes

Genre: Children’s action, msytery

Overview. It’s 1939 and Enid Blyton’s Famous Five discover that the island owned by George’s uncle has secrets that are sought by mysterious strangers and connected to a dead body washed ashore. The race is on to solve the mystery.

What you liked:

I grew up on The Famous Five, reading all 21 books, several times over. They weren’t my favourite Enid Blyton series, but certainly the largest. The first Famous Five inspired film dates from 1958 and there have been a number of send ups. This has had its fair share of critics but I was transported back in time and my created memory of George’s home around which many of the books are based was pretty similar to this one.

The cast did a pretty decent job too with Don’t Breathe 2’s Diaana Babnicova as George, The Northman’s Elliott Rose as Julian, The Midwich Cuckoos’ Kit Rakusen as Dick, and Flora Jacoby Richardson as Anne. Diaana Babnicova was particularly strong, as a character and a presence and of course who’d have thought that Enid would be so ahead of her time depicting a girl, Georgina, who preferred to be ’George’?

The supporting cast veers away from the ‘white cast’ of the original, Nigerian born Ann Akinjirin playing a splendid Aunt Fanny.

This was very much Indiana Jones meets Harry Potter in feel and tone and it kept you interested and moved along at a fair old pace, to a predictable but satisfying conclusion: enough adventure and peril to keep children gripped but not so scary to frighten the youngish ones. 

Danish film director Nicolas Winding Refn, known for his work on movies such as Drive and Only God Forgives,said this: ”By reimagining The Famous FiveI am preserving that notion by bringing these iconic stories to life for a progressive new audience, instilling the undefinable allure and enchantment of childhood for current and future generations to come.”  He did a pretty good job.

What you didn’t like 

Game of Thrones’ Jack Gleeson is likely to divide opinion. A strong performance but so OTT as a ‘baddy’ as to be barely credible and reminiscent of the stereotype villains of the Saturday morning cinema characters common in the 60s and 70s. It was hard to know whether to laugh or groan, and it will be interesting to know what today’s kids make of him.

Thoughts for parents:

So to the question raised by the headline. Blyton books have been condemned by teachers as poor literature (my primary school teacher tried to wean me off them) and her sexism and racism seen through modern eyes can’t be commended.  But children are gripped by the transportation to another world  and this film certainly gives a decent portrayal of that. There’s nothing rude, or vulgar: they reflect a decent world where grown-ups and authorities are generally trusted, manners expected and rights and wrongs valued and denounced. There’s little to concern parents and with a little cautionary comment, the books too are still not half bad and a good primer for perhaps better and more refined writing as a child expands their horizons. This film is followed by two others. Why not see what your children make of them, and ask them what they think these children, set in the late 30s early 40s would make of our world of social media and mobile phones? And what would they make of the church you attend?

4 stars