Film: Swallows and Amazons

Thursday 8 September 2016 by

Swallows and Amazons, Film, 2016

To be honest, the only reason I went to see Swallows and Amazons is because it’s my dad’s favourite childhood book, and we decided to go as a family. I enjoyed the book when I read it, but I was wary of any adaptation of something so inherently tied up in my early experiences of reading.

If you ever read the book as a child, you’ll remember the basic premise – fatherless family goes on holiday, and the kids set off in a little boat and end up having a “war” with some other kids in a boat. Boil it down like that, and it doesn’t sound hugely thrilling, but the book is brilliant and filled to the brim with all the adventures you remember having when you were that age.

However, the filmmakers seem to have decided that this kind of good, clean fun isn’t enough for the big screen, and have added some extra peril. Think Russian spies and guns and planes. An espionage plot more suited to the Famous Five has been grafted on to Arthur Ransome’s innocent games involving pirates and dinghies in an effort to make it more exciting (as if it wasn’t before).

There’s also been a coy name-change, from Titty to Tatty. But I guess only readers of the book would pick up on that one. Either way, Swallows and Amazons has had the silver-screen treatment.

Susan (Orla Hill), Roger (Bobby McCulloch), John (Dane Hughes) and Tatty (Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen) are taken to the Lake District by their mother (played by Kelly Macdonald) whereupon they encounter the good guy and the bad guy – Mr Flint (Rafe Spall) and an enigmatic figure played by Andrew Scott who is undoubtedly bad.

Swallows and Amazons, Rafe Spall, Film, Kelly Macdonald, Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen

Meanwhile, aside from the mysterious danger, the four children make their way in their boat, the Swallow, to an island in the middle of the lake, and this is where the original fun comes in to play – high-spirited battles with Nancy (Seren Hawkes) and Peggy (Hannah Jayne Thorp) and their boat the Amazon. The film itself excels when it returns to the original plot. Perhaps modern storytelling has ruined this wholesome tale for the masses, but when it comes down to it, there is nothing more entertaining than revisiting childhood – picnics, pirates and pillow fights.

The story itself is perhaps better suited to a BBC adaptation on a quiet Sunday with tea and cake, but then so is the book, so there are no complaints there. The espionage storyline still – to me – feels redundant, although Rafe Spall and Andrew Scott are always an absolute pleasure to watch. The children wobble between twee and sharp acting, but they all play their parts with evident joy, and the enthusiasm carries the film.

At once a delight and baffling, this film is worth the watch – but perhaps curled up on the sofa, instead of on the big screen. All in all, the film is filled with contradictions. A true adaptation would leave you feeling all the more satisfied than these two side-by-side plots, one more suited to Enid Blyton than Arthur Ransome. But my dad enjoyed, it and isn’t that what matters?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *