In 2020, the screen adaptation of Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers began airing on CBBC and BBC iPlayer, and Beth Bradfield has been playing Jean across all episodes, having filmed in both Canada and the UK, with the show now being released worldwide. Recently, Beth returned to film Series 4 of the 1940s-based drama, with Jean marking her first series regular role, and this year, Beth attended an event at BFI Southbank alongside her cast members Ella Bright (as Darrell Rivers), Danya Griver (as Gwendoline Mary Lacey) and Sienna Arif Knights (as Sally Hope). Beth was part of a talk at LAMDA in May with fellow actors Robert Rhodes and Crystal Marshall to help spread awareness about having a visible difference in the acting world, where she had the chance to meet people with a similar experience to her own. We chatted to Beth about having her first series regular role as Jean in Malory Towers, attending the BFI Southbank Event and her talk this year at LAMDA.
Can you tell us about your character Jean in Malory Towers and what is she like to play?
Jean is someone who I admire as she is confident within herself and has a strong loyalty to the rest of the girls. She is an understanding person who also cares deeply about her friends and will stick up for what she believes in. Jean is also a lot of fun to play as she loves being involved in the adventures and escapades that the form gets up to. All of the directors, especially Rebecca Rycroft and Bruce McDonald in Series 1, really helped me to understand her.
What was it like finding out you’d be part of the Enid Blyton screen adaptation for your first series regular role?
It was incredibly exciting and I was actually astounded that I had been chosen to play Jean, especially since Malory Towers was my first ever audition. I also felt, and still feel, honoured to be part of bringing to life such an iconic and beloved story that deals with such important themes as growing up, friendship, inclusivity, and feminism.
What do you remember most from meeting the rest of the cast for the first time and reading the script?
It has been over three years since that first read-through in London, but I can still remember the buzz and the excitement from everyone, especially the girls. There was such a welcoming atmosphere from everyone which instantly calmed my nerves. I remember walking in and before I had barely stepped through the door Tash (Raphael), who plays Irene, ran up and gave me a huge hug even though we had never met before! After reading through two episodes, we all sat under the stairs in the hall on cushions and talked for ages, getting to know each other – it is such a fond memory of mine.
Can you tell us how you prepared to play Jean and what do you enjoy most about working on a series based in the 1940s?
Unlike some of the others, I had only read one or two of the Malory Towers books when I was much younger so I read all six whilst we were filming to get to know my character a bit more. Even though I was 15, I really enjoyed the books and I sped through them! Working on a series set in the 1940s is so immersive with the sets, props, costumes, and hairstyles all in keeping with the period which makes it easier to step into Jean’s shoes as her world looks so different to mine. It almost feels like time travelling a bit – getting to experience life in a different period – which is something I would never get to do otherwise.
How is the experience filming on location in both Canada and the UK?
I love filming in both locations! The exterior scenes are mostly filmed in Devon and Cornwall. The coast is so beautiful and I enjoy the lacrosse scenes. The abbey that is used as the school is so impressive and the owners are lovely people too. Filming in Canada has been such an adventure! I had never been there before, it was exciting to visit another country and we all lived together for Series 2 and 3, which made it feel like a home away from home. The interior sets in Toronto are also gorgeous – my favourite is the dorm.
What is it like returning to set to film a new series and how is the filming for Series 4 going so far?
It is so brilliant to be back – every year I feel even luckier that I get to film another series with a cast that I love and look up to so much – we have become a family. The filming is going really well; we have done the UK leg so far and have the interior scenes in Canada to go which I am particularly looking forward to. I love the storylines this year, they are as heartwarming and hilarious as ever!
How different did you find the experience filming during the pandemic?
It was different from the previous year; wearing masks and visors on set and getting tested two to three times per week, but it was a routine that we quickly adapted to. I was just grateful that we had those measures in place so that the cast and crew were kept safe whilst still being able to film.
The show is aired around the world, how is it seeing the viewers’ response to Malory Towers and your character?
It is amazing to see the overwhelmingly positive response Malory Towers has had, whether that be through messages on social media or meeting people in real life who love the show. It feels incredible to know that I have been part of a show that has brought so much comfort and joy to people of all ages, especially during the pandemic. On a personal note, I was nervous about the response people would have to Jean but I am so grateful to have received such lovely messages from so many people saying that they have been inspired by my appearance in Malory Towers.
Why would you recommend watching the series and who do you think it will appeal to?
I would 100% recommend the show to anyone but especially young people from perhaps six to 13 and anyone older who loves the books. Malory Towers is such a heartwarming show with adventure and fun whilst also discussing some really important topics that people of any age can relate to such as getting older, making friends, different types of families, and female empowerment. I love how our show celebrates the diversity in the cast and the characters and empowers young people to be kind and loyal to their friends, stick up for what they believe in, and have fun when they can.
Can you tell us about the event at BFI Southbank you attended recently with some of the cast?
The BFI Southbank event was such a brilliant opportunity – to have a screening with members of the public in attendance was very exciting and any chance to be reunited with the cast and crew, and watch what we all worked so hard to create together is always so special. Getting to speak at the event was very nerve-racking but such an amazing experience. Having Ella (Bright), Danya (Griver), and Sienna (Arif Knights) up there with me helped to put me at ease and I enjoyed being interviewed by Jenny Eclair about Series 3 and our characters. She’s a huge fan of the show and her enthusiasm was genuine and hilarious.
What is it like being a guest on CBBC HQ and working on a CBBC show?
It was honestly a childhood dream come true! I grew up watching CBBC, so to be there at HQ was something I will never forget. Live television was a new experience for me and it was very fast-paced the first time but everyone there was reassuring and encouraging, and having Ella there too was a lot of fun. Getting to meet Hacker T. Dog was certainly the highlight! Recording the Christmas links was fun too – doing it on my own without any of my castmates alongside me was quite intimidating but the presenters were lovely and quickly put me at ease.
Do you have any stand-out highlights from filming as Jean over the years?
My first ever scene in Series 1 is a very memorable experience as it was the first time I had acted on camera and it was with most of the girls in the dorm. The pillow fight scene in Series 1 was a lot of fun, as well as the midnight feast episode. In Series 2, the highlight has to be working with the cat, Kenny! I am a cat person so I felt very lucky to have a couple of scenes with him and that I was able to hold him in one too. The quiz and the lesson in the classroom with Matron teaching the girls about adolescence were also two of the most fun scenes I have ever filmed.
Where does your love of acting come from and is it something you always wanted to do?
I have been involved in performance groups since a very young age so I grew up performing on stage and loved it, although Malory Towers was the first time that I considered that my love of acting and performing could become a career. Now that that is a possibility, I would love to continue acting as much as I can – in Malory Towers and beyond.
What are some of your favourite films and TV shows to watch?
My favourite TV show has got to be Killing Eve, I watched it from age 13 to 17 and got very invested in the story and the characters. Villanelle has to be my all-time favourite TV character and I’m quite upset now that it has ended. My favourite film is Booksmart. Some other honourable mentions though have to be BBC’s Sherlock, Ratched, and Stranger Things.
Earlier this year, you spoke at LAMDA alongside Phyllida Swift, Robert Rhodes, and Crystal Marshall, how was this?
This was a fantastic opportunity to meet people that have a similar experience to mine and discuss an important topic that is not often talked about in public places. Speaking about having a visible difference in the acting world with students and staff of a prestigious drama school as LAMDA was a privilege as it was particularly relevant to them and to us as Crystal, Robert and I are all actors hoping to spread awareness and change the way people with visible differences are treated, spoken to and cast in the industry.
How do you like to spend your time away from your career and have you been given any advice that has stuck with you over the years?
I have just finished school so at the moment I am enjoying spending as much time with my friends as I can before they go to university. I have also loved playing the guitar, writing songs and being able to read for pleasure since my exams have finished.
I tend to overthink my performance during filming, so one piece of acting advice that sticks out to me is from one of the directors on Series 1 of Malory Towers, Rebecca Rycroft, who told me to relax. The scenes that I ended up performing the best in, and still do, are the ones where I am comfortable but focused. Being more present in a scene definitely helped me appear more natural on screen.
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