Swallows and Amazons movie review: a free-range kiddie adventure

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Swallows and Amazons green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

Behold a time before helicopter parenting, when children roamed free, ate cake for dinner, and played with fire. A delightfully old-fashioned treat.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
I have not read the source material
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Gather round, kiddies, and behold a time before videogames — before television, even — when children roamed free and were forced to relieve their boredom with nothing more than a couple of sticks and their imaginations… and they relished it. Gather round, parents, and marvel as a mother grants permission for her four children to go sailing and camping on their own recognizance, with no adult supervision at all, for days. Because, as that mother says, “I don’t want them frightened of the world,” so they have to learn how to deal with it on their own. Imagine that!

Not only had helicopters not yet been invented, neither had helicopter parenting.

It is the summer of 1935, and the four eldest Walker children — John (Dane Hughes), about 15; Susan (Orla Hill: Song for Marion), about 13; Tatty (Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen), around 8; and Roger (Bobby McCulloch), maybe 6 — are vacationing in England’s Lake District with their mother (Kelly Macdonald: Anna Karenina, Brave) when they ask to be allowed to sail, in a little boat called Swallow, to an “undiscovered” island, just for the excitement of it. Dad, captain of a naval ship away in the Far East, is consulted via telegram, and his reply basically says that they should go ahead, and if they die, they weren’t worthy of the adventure anyway; everyone approves of this. And so they are off. They do not wear life jackets. There is actual playing with fire at one point. The whole district is awash with pirates and spies (maybe) and seagoing rivals (definitely) with their own claim on the island, the crew of the dinghy Amazon (Seren Hawkes and Hannah Jayne Thorp). There are daring exploits, moments of cliffhanger suspense, and cake.tweet It is a glorious time.

Whips up intrigue in keeping with the book’s spirit of fearless invention.

The first novel in the beloved series of children’s books by Arthur Ransome has gotten a few tweaks for its second big-screen outing (the first was in 1974). In the books, Tatty is called Titty, which, you know, simply would not work today. More substantially, screenwriter Andrea Gibb (Dear Frankie) and director Philippa Lowthorpe have whipped up some intrigue not in the book but totally in keeping with its spirit of childlike invention and fearlessness. Is “Captain Flint” (Rafe Spall: The BFG, The Big Short) a pirate? He does live on a houseboat and have a parrot, after all. And why is he being pursued, or perhaps investigated, by the mysterious Lazlov (Andrew Scott: Alice Through the Looking Glass, Victor Frankenstein)? Is it merely the perspective of kids hopped up on the thrill of crafting their own adventure that makes the grownups seem shifty and nefarious? Or is something actually fiendish really going on?

From the gorgeous Lake District scenery to the delightful young cast — and the game older cast, which also features the indispensable Jessica Hynes (Chalet Girl, Doctor Who) as the landlady of the B&B where the Walkers stay — Swallows and Amazons is utterly charming. This is a genuine treattweet, old-fashioned in the best way, and an essential reminder that young imaginations require space to soar in.

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Thu, Aug 18, 2016 5:51pm

I’m biast (con) because I have read and loved the source material; however gorgeous the photography, however great the actors, it can never be as good as the version in my head. No doubt the sort of film that will appeal to people who aren’t me. :)

(Though given the whizz-bang taste of the modern film-going audience I’ll be surprised, and pleased, if this does well. Especially when Narnia flopped so thoroughly.)

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  RogerBW
Fri, Aug 19, 2016 5:13pm

it can never be as good as the version in my head

That is almost always true with a film based on a novel.

I will be curious to hear what people who love the book think of the film.

Thu, Aug 18, 2016 8:31pm

So the writers of this film did not read any of the books beforehand. And of course loose all context once again

reply to  dee
Thu, Aug 18, 2016 9:20pm

What makes you say that?

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  dee
Fri, Aug 19, 2016 5:14pm

What are you talking about?

reply to  dee
Mon, Jun 12, 2017 6:24am

Arrrr, tis the blaggard dee. Must be three sheets to the wind.