ARTHUR Ransome’s coming-of-age novel is remade for the 21st century as a trio of established British talent and a bunch of up-and-comers team up for a generally enjoyable version of Swallows and Amazons.
In 1935, the Walker siblings from Portsmouth travel to the Lake District with their mother (Kelly MacDonald) whilst their father, a captain, is forced to miss the trip due to his work. Whilst on the train, they encounter a suspicious man Turner (Rafe Spall) who is being pursued by a pair of agents, led by Lazlow (Andrew Scott). After Turner barely escapes, thanks in part to making the children collude with him in his attempts at dodging them, unbeknown to the mother, the children move on.
Whilst four of the siblings (the other is a baby) entertain themselves during the trip, the eldest child John inadvertently smashes a window of a boat whilst skimming, with the owner later revealed to be Turner, who remains in hiding, unaware that the agents are closing in.
Mixing with that storyline is the children taking advantage of their freedom and spending their time sailing and camping, whilst enduring a battle with two unruly girls who make attempt to retain their ‘ownership’ of the island the Walkers are on.
To sum this up, one does not have to have read the book or even seen the original film version when going into this. The film is not an exhilarating experience but there is a charm to it that makes it an enjoyable piece, as well as a love letter to the English countryside.
It is one that can appeal to different kinds of generations, as the storylines revolving the children will appeal to its target audience, whilst the spy element provides something the adult audiences can be partial to.
Though smaller children might not understand the motives for Lazlow’s pursuit of Turner, for the adults, the storytelling is done so in a more basic but welcome manner, so one won’t have to spend time scratching heads and can just enjoy.
Obviously youngsters will want to see more about their fictional counterparts but as well as helping relate to childhood, the film plays as an educational one.
Young people will look at the overcoming of adversity, notably in regards to the character of Roger, who is almost left behind on the camping trip to his distress as a result of not being a strong enough swimmer. We feel his distress but the moment is redeemed later when his swimming practice in the lake allows him the permission of his mother to join his older siblings.
When John blames him for losing his father’s knife, it feels sudden and during his frustrated state, he cruelly wishes he drown. A brutal comment but one that succeeds with its message of telling youngsters to be careful what they wish for, especially when those words risk coming back to haunt John.
The rivalry between the Walkers and the dastardly Blackett siblings also helps provide a reasonable amount of entertainment. With the newly-arrived siblings setting up camp, their rivals see it as an attempt to steal ‘their’ land , thus beginning a battle which by the end, leaves much more positive than good. The highlight of this section has to come from Roger’s sneaky efforts at stranding the Blacketts, handing a sense of jolly-natured humour to a film which most youngsters will enjoy.
Watching the likes of Spall, MacDonald and Scott in their respective roles makes for enjoyable viewing, with all three, specifically Scott, suited to their roles. Looking at the actors playing the younger parts, Seren Hawkes’s role as the dastardly older Blackett suggests this is an actress who with the right roles could be an actress to look out for in the future.
There is plenty in the film to like but its straightforward nature means this likely won’t be remembered massively decades from now. It seems like the sort of film that rather than being given a plum television evening showing will probably wind up being shown at ten in the morning on BBC1 during the Christmas holidays by decade’s end.
The film may be predictable but in amongst that, there is a reason as to how lucky we are as a country to part of the UK. Helping that case is the opening sequence where we see an illustration of the map heading from the Walker’s home in Portsmouth through to their holiday location, showing other areas from Bristol to the Cotswolds to Manchester. With the beautiful landscape of the District often detailed, specifically during the siblings’ boating journey, it makes one want to visit the area so the film will hopefully encourage more to see what is scenery worth going one’s way for.
Swallows and Amazons may be basic, but with its charming cast and depiction of breathtaking imagery, it passes as an entertaining work for all the family.