Swallows And Amazons


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Swallows And Amazons
"The whole thing is outdated to the dustiest degree with the flag of the Empire flying free from the masts of their imagination"

In the Forties prep school boys of a certain class raced through Enid Blyton's Famous Five towards the historical novels of G.A Henty and the Zulu adventures of Rider Haggard before discovering John Buchan and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Along the way, some took a train north to the Lake District and hit the mother lode with Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons.

In the 21st century this appears privileged, if you take a political line, or twee, if you cringe easily in the presence of unfettered innocence. J K Rowling avoided these pitfalls with Harry Potter. It must have been the magic.

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The Walkers spend their summer holidays with Mr and Mrs Jackson in their cottage on the hillside above Lake Windermere. He is a shepherd who grunt speaks if he speaks at all. She is cook, housekeeper and tough as nuts.

Children in those long lost dreamy times spent all hours of the day out of doors. They were allowed to take risks and indulge in unchaperoned excitement. Health & Safety would have a fit.

Mr Walker, otherwise known as Daddy, is in Hong Kong making pots of money (allegedly) while Mummy (Kelly Macdonald), otherwise known as Mrs Walker, takes charge of the children. She affects a strict attitude towards their behavior, but lets them do what they want when it comes to exploring and dangerous role plays, leaving 16-year-old John responsible for his sisters and younger ("I can't swim") brother.

This is the Thirties when the bear (and the bug) is Russian. If anyone has heard of The Third Reich or that funny man with a silly moustache they don't mention it. Spies are the stuff of nightmares. If you need a villain, or some scary figure in a trench coat, you know where to look, and that is what the Walkers are up against, or so they believe.

Ransome loved the lake and he loved sailing. The Walkers love coming here but their sailing skills are rudimentary. Daddy taught John stuff during the last hols, but he's not around, which means it's a case of trial and not too much error, hopefully

The Walkers have The Swallow (a boat) and the Blacketts have The Amazon (another boat). The Blacketts are girls who live here all the time and consider themselves pirates and rulers of the island (on the lake). Confrontation ensues between opposing crews. But what about the spies? Thrills await, pistols out of pockets, upper lips stiffer than liquorice and a take-that-you-rotters response to anyone who looks like foreign swine.

Scriptwriter Andrea Gibb has remained true to her source, although Mrs Walker does have a Scottish accent, while the children talk posh. Respect for Ransome's sweeping nostalgia has its downside. The whole thing is outdated to the dustiest degree with the flag of the Empire flying free from the masts of their imagination.

The acting of the young is hit or miss. The spies, in their tweeds, are less threatening than Mrs Jackson's rabbit pie. Roger is Jolly and the weather holds up as memories melt into consciousness like a sixpenny cornet on a hot summer Saturday.

Reviewed on: 24 Aug 2016
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Swallows And Amazons packshot
City kids holiday in the Lake District in the Thirties and have adventures on the water and against dastardly spies
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Director: Philippa Lowthorpe

Writer: Andrea Gibb, based on the novel by Arthur Ransome

Starring: Kelly Macdonald, Rafe Spall, Andrew Scott, Jessica Hynes, Harry Enfield, Dane Hughes, Orla Hill, Seren Hawkes, Bobby McCulloch, Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen, Hannah Jayne Thorp, Fenella Woolgar, Richard Bremmer

Year: 2016

Runtime: 97 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: UK


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