Ballet Shoes

We taped the BBC telemovie of Noel Streatfeild's Ballet Shoes last week (is that illegal?? oh well). The girls have been watching it on high rotation ever since (literally – I think we've played it twenty times in the past week).

They already know the story, thanks to an audio dramatisation that Alice got for Christmas, so they are a couple of steps removed from the book, but that will come. I have my well-thumbed and corner-nibbled copy waiting for them.

I loved all Noel Streatfeild's books but Ballet Shoes was my favourite. I read it over and over. It was so detailed, so rich and sprawling, that I felt I was living alongside Pauline, Petrova and Posy as they rushed from the Academy, to lessons with Drs Jake and Smith, from auditions to Mr Simpson's garage to backstage at the theatre. The panics over clothes and money, holidays and celebrations, the big old house filled with fascinating boarders, daily life in 1930s London, were all more vivid to me than my own life.

Ruth Gervis' delicate, lively illustrations forever fixed the Fossils in my mind. I was thrilled to discover, only recently, that Ruth was Noel's own sister, well-known to me as "Isobel" from Streatfeild's thinly fictionalised childhood memoir, A Vicarage Family (close second favourite to Ballet Shoes).

Streatfield handles family relationships superbly, and the family in Ballet Shoes is all the more striking for being thrown together by circumstance rather than blood, and also for being so dominated by women. The only significant men in the story are Mr Simpson, a benign uncle-figure and role model for mechanically-minded Petrova, and the absent Gum.

The TV adaptation is largely faithful to the broad brushstrokes of the story (apart from a love triangle between Theo Dane, Mr Simpson and Garnie, which I could have done without), and it was lovely to see the clothes and the house. It was a pity that Posy couldn't really dance, since she's supposed to be a ballet prodigy. It was the minute detail of practice routines, morning teas and performance licences that I missed. But then, that's what books are for.

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