A few months ago, when the lockdown was still in its infancy, a friend of mine revealed that she’d stumbled across a new binge-worthy boxset: Malory Towers. Enid Blyton’s book series about a girls’ boarding school had been adapted by the BBC, and what’s more, the iPlayer release date had been brought forward by a fortnight when schools first closed in March.
The timing was perfect, and the adaptation (which later began airing on CBBC as planned) garnered rave reviews from critics, praising its blend of nostalgia and quiet feminism. My twenty-something friend had watched the 13-part series with her mum, and had found the adaptation “soothing” to watch.
Hanna season two, with its fast paced storylines about a group of teenage assassins, can’t quite be called ‘soothing’. But its new boarding school backdrop taps into a similar trend for nostalgic, school-set dramas.
The Amazon drama, based on David Farr’s film of the same name, follows Hanna (played by Esmé Creed-Miles), who’s been brought up in a remote forest with no knowledge of the world outside – only to later discover that she was born in a lab, and genetically modified as part of a programme run by a shadowy organisation called Utrax.
At the end of season one, Hanna learnt that there were others like her: over 30 teenage girls, all being trained by Utrax to become deadly assassins.
In Hanna season two’s opening episode, the actions cuts back and forth between a forest, where Hanna and defected Utrax trainee Clara are hiding out, and ‘The Meadows’, a huge Jacobean mansion where the rest of the female trainees are about to be assigned their new character profiles and begin learning about the outside world.
The Meadows scenes were filmed at Bramshill Estate, Hampshire, which I saw during a Hanna set-visit last year. Every wall, staircase and classroom was decked out with busts and portraits of exclusively female heroines and pioneers, like Amelia Earhart.
The trainees’ bedrooms had been kitted out in the style of their assumed identities, and many of the rooms were decorated with posters and placards with slogans like, ‘Education Is Power’, and ‘Men of Quality Respect Women’s Equality’.
The whole building felt like – and was meant to feel like – a modern girls’ boarding school, one that was keen on empowering its students.
Throughout the series, showrunner Farr cleverly juxtaposes the more sinister side of the school, including the students’ continued combat training, with the – dare I say – Enid Blyton elements, albeit catering for a more grown-up student body. Instead of clandestine midnight picnics, as in Malory Towers, the Utrax girls steal alcohol from a delivery truck, and hold a common room party with cocktails and board games.
The combination of escapism and action makes for a heady formula, one that I found much more watchable than Hanna season one. Having been sent the entire second season to preview, I binged all the episodes in a matter of days.
The first Malory Towers book was published in 1946, when Britain was still feeling the after-effects of World War Two. The adventurous yet sheltered lives of the Malory girls seemed to provide the perfect, safe escape for Blyton’s young readers, as they came to terms with the once-in-a-generation crisis they had lived through.
It seems appropriate that the TV adaptation should be released just as the nation’s children live through another, once-in-a-generation crisis.
For adults, there’s been Normal People, which broke records for BBC iPlayer when it was first released mid-lockdown. Viewers followed Irish teenagers Connell and Marianne first through their final school year, and then through university – both somewhat nostalgic settings that are slightly separate from the adult world.
Hanna season two is Malory Towers on steroids, retaining its darkness and action-fuelled, international sequences – not to mention far more bloodshed that Enid Blyton could likely stomach.
But by introducing a school setting and teens-versus-adults elements, the show taps into our hunger for both escapism and nostalgia.
Hanna season two launches on Amazon Prime Video on Friday 3rd July 2020 – check out what else is on with our TV Guide