Swallows and Amazons - Tale gives that sinking feeling

  • Film
Swallows and Amazons - Tale gives that sinking feeling


Thu, 18/08/2016 - 14:09


Far from oarsome: the young crew of The Swallow
Far from oarsome: the young crew of The Swallow
18 August, 2016

Certificate 12a

ARTHUR Ransome’s life is fascinating. He wrote pitch-perfect books – his Lake District and Norfolk Broads books are giants in 20th century children’s literature. He was a superb journalist for The Guardian. He witnessed and became an expert on the Russian Revolution, befriending Lenin and Trotsky. He worked as a secret agent for both the UK and Russia (this film of his beautiful book, Swallows and Amazons, pays homage to that by giving one character his own codename, S67). 

He always championed the underdog, was involved in geo-political derring-do such as smuggling secret peace offerings across borders between warring states, and still found time to pen books for adults too, on topics as diverse as bohemian London, boat building, Edgar Allan Poe and nature. It is safe to say he lived a good life.

Now he is best known for his Swallows and Amazons series, and it is high time these brilliant stories were given the big screen treatment. 

Ransome’s first book features the Walker children, who are off on their summer holidays to the Lakes. Father is a captain in the Royal Navy, and is doing his bit for gun-boat diplomacy in the dark days of the mid-30s as the great powers circled each other, waiting to see who would blink first.

The five children head to stay on the shores of Coniston and Windermere, and are allowed to use a sailing dinghy, The Swallow, to camp on a deserted island.

They meet the Blackett sisters – captain and crew of the Amazon – and are launched into a perfect childhood adventure involving exploration, pirate fantasies, and real-life spies.

There is much to admire about the film. The Lake District provides the most perfect of backdrops. 

However, the portrayal of 1930s Britain looks like it has been taken from a Boden catalogue. 

The biggest disappointment, and sadly it holds this tale below the waterline, is the performances from the children. Instead of being full of adventure and joy, they appear to be snivelling grumps, bickering among each other as if their phones and PlayStations have been taken away from them. 

Every scene rattles with the tones of posh kids from a provincial drama school winging their way through a tale they don’t understand. 

The adults are not much better: Harry Enfield gurns his lines through an unlit pipe like a character from The Fast Show. 

The books were a cornerstone of my childhood and therefore I, like thousands of others of my generation, feel a sense of ownership over them. It makes me feel furiously disappointed that my 12-year-old son will now associate such wonderful, escapist tales with a bunch of wet, snivelling, annoying children. He won’t want to hop on board.

 – See Gulliver

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