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Wednesday 24 Sep 2014

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Women We Loved: Helena Bonham Carter plays Enid Blyton

Helena Bonham Carter plays Enid Blyton

In the first of three major films for BBC Four as part of the Women We Loved season, Academy-nominated actress Helena Bonham Carter takes the lead as Enid Blyton, one of the most prolific and incredibly successful children's authors of the 20th century.

The popular British actress – with numerous and diverse roles to her credit including Wings Of The Dove, Fight Club, Planet Of The Apes, Harry Potter, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory and Room With A View – confesses that books by the famous author did not feature on her reading list as a child.

"I have lots of friends who say 'oh my God she saved my childhood', but I didn't actually read Enid Blyton as a child," says the actress, whose first major role was in the James Ivory adaptation of EM Forster's novel A Room With A View.

"I know that's so un-English but I was not brought up in a very English way. My mum is half Spanish and half French, so it's a different culture.

"My family would never have stopped me," continues the north London-born actress, "It just never came up."

In contrast to her own upbringing, Blyton is popular in the Bonham Carter/Burton household, with one book in particular proving to be an enjoyable bedtime treat for both Helena and her young son.

"I am now reading Noddy to my son," continues Helena. ""It keeps his interest, the language is simple, which Blyton is often criticised for, but it's great when teaching young children to read... and fantastically short!" she laughs. ""So when it comes to bedtime I can do two chapters and get a bonus point for getting two in."

So if it wasn't a love of Blyton's books that attracted Helena to the role, then what did?

"It was a great script and a wonderful character, and it's very, very rare to come across a character with so many dimensions and contradictions. There is always a chemical reaction when you read something and you just know that you have to do it.

"The whole thing was shot in 15 days. You have to be fit and know your lines. As an actor I would do everything if I had my way in 15 days. It's also helpful when you've got kids. So this was a dream," says the mother-of-two.

"Enid was a workaholic, there was a complete disconnect between her and her children. I think she was someone who couldn't cope with a certain amount of reality.

"She felt her father abandoned her; he left when she was 13 and that was the single most traumatising experience. I think she was emotionally like the children she wrote for. She basically carried on writing for herself, the 13-year-old self, which her father left, and that's why she was so effective as a children's writer.

"I recognised a lot of her in me actually," Helena continues. "She is someone who didn't grow up and I am a bit like that. I only managed to move out of my parents' home when I was 30... two years ago," she laughs.

"Blyton had an amazing computer-like efficiency, she sat down and wrote around 700 books in her lifetime, she had an unbelievably efficient brain and speed as a character; then sadly she developed early senile dementia."

The popular author, whose books have been translated in numerous languages worldwide, has a strong fan-base in the UK.

"Members of The Enid Blyton Society came to visit and they absolutely wholeheartedly approved of the script and were very excited. I also met Imogen [Enid's daughter], my 74-year-old daughter. I felt worried that we would somehow offend her but she was helpful and emailed lots of tips.

"When you're dramatising someone you work from the inside out. I wanted to capture the essence of Enid. Her writing was a compulsion, she had to sit down and write every day…

"She was making her own living and was fantastically successful by her late twenties. She was very canny and unbelievably confident, yet insecure – a funny mixture."

Married to publisher Hugh Pollock, the father of her daughters Gillian and Imogen, Blyton later married surgeon Kenneth Darrell Waters.

"I think Enid was very passionate in her relationship with husband number two [Kenneth Waters] and also in the early stages of her marriage to Hugh Pollock.

"There's one account in Imogen's book by somebody who'd met Enid, who said she was the most vital woman she'd ever met, fantastically alive. She wasn't necessarily the most physically attractive or beautiful, but her vigour and her zest for life was very sexy and vital. She never sat back; she had huge determination and self-reliance."

So is Helena planning to relax with a glass of ginger beer in front of her TV set next week to watch Enid on BBC Four?

"I won't watch it," confesses Helena. "Most actors I know loathe watching themselves. It's not like I am going to do exactly the same part next year, so what's the point? I love acting because I love doing it. You do it so that other people can watch it if they want to watch it. I certainly don't do it to watch it."

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