“Ballet Shoes” by Noel Streatfeild is one of my favourite books. As I kid, I read and re-read it until, as you can see from the photo, it fell to pieces.
The story was set in the 1930s and I loved the concept of the three feisty Fossil girls, Pauline, Petrova and Posy who, when the money ran out, had to earn their living. What made this even more enticing was that they worked in the world of theatre.
The three girls had been adopted, as babies, by fossil-hunting Great Uncle Mathew, GUM, who promptly disappeared leaving them in the care of his niece Sylvia and her old nanny.
When I discovered there was film of the book, starring Emma Watson, Lucy Boynton, Yasmin Paige, Emilia Fox and Victoria Wood, among other well-known stars of stage and screen, I couldn’t wait to see it.
However… Great though the acting was and the period detail was immaculate what really, really annoyed me was the gratuitous romantic sub-plot. It was, it had to be admitted very subtly done, but a blossoming love affair between Sylvia and the lodger Mr Simpson, who incidentally is neither a father nor a widower in the book, is totally unnecessary.
A rose tinted happy ending is not what this book is about. Noel Streatfeild is too good a writer to leave us with any romantic illusions.
Life as an actor or dancer is hard. The competition is fierce and you may be judged, as the talented but plan Winifred finds, on how you look, rather than how good you are. There is little security and a constant jockeying for jobs.
To succeed you have to be single minded, as Posy is, or be prepared to sacrifice your dream, as Pauline ultimately does for the good of the family.
Given the need for good role models for girls in the twenty-first century, the women in the book are outstanding. They make their own way in the world, never relying on the men around them but making their own decisions. They don’t need romance, or a rose petal wedding. So why did the makers of the film end on this saccharine note? Was it that they ultimately didn’t trust their audience? That they did not believe that without a romantic element the film would not work? If they did, then they were wrong. Sticking to the original would have made a much stronger story.