Swallows and Amazons is Arthur Ransome’s classic children’s book brought back to the big screen once more in 2016. It will make you nostalgic for your own childhood pre-mobile phones and Pokemon Go. Full of adventure, childhood innocence and battle between boys and girls – it is a joy to watch and is captivating for the entire 1 hr 33 mins of screen time. Although the added spy drama is a distraction. It didn’t need sexing up
For those not familar with Arthur Ransome’s classic, Swallows and Amazons is about the Walker family made up of their mother, Mrs Walker (Kelly Macdonald) and her four children. They live down South and head up to a cottage run by Mr Jackson (Harry Enfield) and Mrs Jackson (Jessica Hynes) for the summer. Mr Walker is never seen as he is away in Hong Kong and is a Captain in the navy. Here at the Lakes the children are free to lark around and set off on adventure in Mr Jackson’s dinghy, Swallow, to the small eyot or lake island in the middle of the lake. They have Mrs Jackson’s cake, a hamper full of food (although lost in the water during the journey to the island lake) and hearts full of adventure. However, when they arrive at the island it has already been claimed by the Amazons: Nancy (Seren Hawkes) and Peggy (Hannah Jayne Thorp) who already own the island. The children decide to have a boat race to decide who can rightfully claim the island – Amazons or Swallows.
Swallows and Amazons reminds us of a time when children were allowed to roam free and the only limit on imagination and adventure was your own. Adults watching will wistfully think how can I disconnect from the outside world. Although it is not all rose tinted spectacles in Andrea Gibb’s screenplay we now have an added spy element. One could say that the train espionage is necessary in order to move the narrative along although it does sort of cast a shadow and dampens the wonderful childhood innocence especially when John Walker is holding a gun against Lazlov. Swallows and Amazons has been sexed up unnecessarily. Pirates, Amazons and children attempting to cook and look after themselves should be enough but now a spy adventure and cold war element has been added to the story. Also one of the Walker children’s name has been changed from Titty to Tatty. Maybe children in 2016 are too innocent to hear the name titty rather than tatty.
I vaguely recollect the book and for those who haven’t read it they will be happy enough with this and the added drama. For those who have, the tinkering with names and adding the spy element might send them overboard. For me Swallows and Amazons is about a childhood holiday not coming of age. Nonetheless, with the summer holidays it is a great distraction from 2016 and may even encourage some to take up sailing. Also it is just the right length of film and no lulls. Rafe Spall as Captain Flint is wonderful and the child actor playing Roger Walker encapsulates the very essence of this wonderful children’s classic book – innocence and adventure.
Swallows and Amazons opens in cinemas across the UK on Friday 19 August.
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