What’s On TV chats to Helena Bonham Carter about her new BBC4 drama Enid in which she plays world famous children’s author Enid Blyton…
What attracted you to playing Enid Blyton?
“It was a great script and such a great part. I was really recognised a lot of her in me. Enid’s definitely a forever child, like me, somebody who forgot to grow up or deliberately didn’t grow up. I only managed to move out of home when I was 30 – two years ago! I love her ability to escape and live imaginatively.”
Were you a fan of Enid Blyton? Did you read her books when you were little?
“It wasn’t that I’m not a fan, I just didn’t read her books, they weren’t a part of my childhood. I guess I must have read Noddy and I was aware of The Famous Five. I suppose my London childhood was not very outdoorsy, and I wasn’t bought up in a very English way. My mum’s Spanish so it wasn’t a part of my culture.”
You show that Enid had a lot to cope with in her life…
“She was somebody who couldn’t cope with a certain amount of reality – her father leaving her as a child especially. Her coping mechanism was to enter a world that was comfortable and enchanted. And she helped a lot of children as a result. A lot of my friends have said: ‘She helped me survive my childhood because I escaped to her world.”
Do you think that’s why she surrounded herself with child fans? There’s a scene with her hosting a children’s tea party, and she called them friends.
“Yes, she did think of them as friends. But the irony was, she never really had any real intimacy with her own children. She couldn’t deal with people that close to her for fear they’d discover that she was unlovable because her father left her when she was so young and she and her mother and her didn’t get on. I think it was self-protection. She was also emotionally the same age as the children she was writing for. That’s why she was so effective as a children’s writer but not so good as a mother.”
What was Enid’s relationship with her children like?
“I know Imogen, who’s still alive today, felt Enid was very, very distant towards her, and almost virtually absent as a mother. Imogen also suffered by being born into a marriage that was already very on the rocks and at a time when Enid had become incredibly successful.”
Was Enid a driven person?
“She was a workaholic, so she vanished from her marriage pretty early on to delve into her work. She wrote unbelievably quickly, she wrote over 700 books in a lifetime. She was known to write 6000 words a day with two fingers on a typewriter. She’d write one of those Famous Five books in a week. Her writing was a compulsion. Almost pathological. She had to sit down and write every single day. She’d just sit down and, it did sound like a kind of psychosis, she’d close her eyes and all these characters would start appearing and then they’d write themselves stories.”
Was she ahead of her time?
“I think she was a bit of a feminist, definitely. I don’t mean politically but this was a woman who was working class and born in 1897. She left home when she was 18 and immediately started working. She was a very efficient businesswoman and did all her own deals, ones that made everything advantageous to her. She got a huge amount of royalties. She was very canny.”
Did you read or listen to any interviews with Enid?
“Yes. It’s quite easy with Enid because she wrote so much including a biography, which is hilarious – my life, it’s all rose-tinted! She’s very loving towards dogs because dogs never let people down or disappoint and give unconditional love whatever. And she loved gardens. There wasn’t very much footage annoyingly.”
Did you enjoy wearing the costumes?
“I loved the costumes! In fact most of them are my clothes! I was even paid a rental fee that was practically more than I earned as an actor!”
How did filming this compare with a Harry Potter shoot?
“It’s so slow on the Potter movies! It really is the absolute opposite to this. But there are other benefits – you get paid more!”
BBC4’s Enid will be shown on November 16 at 9pm.