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When this arrived, I'd finished reading all the Swallows and Amazons
novels just a few months before. I'd also just seen the TV productions
of the two Coots books (click on my name for that review) and read
Roger Wardale's "In Search of Swallows & Amazons" which interpolates a
fair amount of biographical data into a photographic search for the
real Lakeland sites in which the fictions take place.
Much about this 1974 theatrical film is right, and two things -- both casting issues -- grievously wrong. Judging from Wardale's photos and Ransome's descriptions, the lake lands, Wildcat and Comorant Islands, and especially the two landing sites on Wildcat look perfect or nearly. Also right: the two boats of the title swishing across the lake with the camera set low so that the distances and land masses appear as they might in a child's eye. I like that tacking, so important throughout the series, happens clearly and instructively without anyone ever stopping to explain it, whether Roger running otherwise bizarre switchbacks up a lazily sloping lawn, or John doing a hundred-count to tack in the dark. (Believe me it's clear when you see, especially if you know any of the books.) John and Susan, the one groping toward becoming a natural leader, the other painstakingly matronly yet able to break in an instant into a child's sprint, seem well cast and anchor the group. Able seaman Titty's the best cast. She has the most active imagination in the group, always seems more actively and willingly to believe, while the two older children have to work just a little at pretending. Roger, to me, looks a little two Alfred E. Newman, but does no real harm to the film.
The most horribly miscast is Nancy, the older Amazon. Though a bare year older in the books, here she towers over the others. I think she's at least as tall as the other miscast character, her uncle "Captain Flint," and even has a figure with which she could pass for eighteen or twenty. But worse than that, she's not wild enough. Not until the very end does she utter a single grudgingly weak "Shiver me timbers," or if she did before they were too limp to notice. She seems nearly as "native" as the Swallow's mother, while she should have been a driving force, the most vivid pretender, or equal at least to Titty. I'm not sure how to describe to who haven't read. Maybe the closest I can come is Charles Shultz's Peppermint Patty but with a lot more confidence. Reading, I always heard Nancy's "Shiver me timbers" as raucous as a parrot's cry.
Bird-faced actor Ronald Fraser's Uncle Jim, or "Captain Flint," looks like a fifty-year-old petty magistrate. He could never sincerely belong with these kids against the Natives. He IS a native, irredeemably. (Natives are adults, shore people, or in general anyone not in on the frame of mind out of which the term Native comes.) Ransome's Captain Flint is fat and knowledgeable, playful but seldom or never silly. Ronald Fraser condescends in a way that's anathema not just to the real fictional Flint but to Ransome.
But please take the good of all I've said, and do see this film.
Although no one would accuse this film of being great art, it is a
delightful, wholesome and reasonably accurate (albeit simplified) rendition
of Arthur Ransome's wonderful book. It is nearly impossible these days to
find any movies where the children are kind to one another, the parents are
loving and the adventures are free of violence. If you love sailing, old
boats, and a pleasant easygoing story, Swallows and Amazons isn't a bad
choice. It is one of our family favorites.
A classic childhood adventure set in English Lake District in 1929. Four pre-teens travel by train with their mother for a weeks holiday in the Lake District. The children spend their time exploring in a rowing boat & camping on a small island. They befriend two sisters & become involved in an intrigue with their uncle; having adopted a pirates view of their world. The children enter a world of magic & adventure, where their freedom & imagination are the special effects. A charming tale, with exquisitely rendered period detail in a timeless landscape that will have you aching for a simpler age. Do not miss - your inner child will thank you for it.
I have loved the Swallows and Amazons books since I was a child and first
saw this movie years ago. It is a reasonably faithful adaptation, though
large parts of the book are missing. I enjoyed seeing the film recreation
which mostly matched my vision.
Susan is very well played by Zannah Hamilton and really improves on the book character. Roger is a bit gormless and is not as interesting as the book character. Titty, John, Nancy and Peggy work pretty well. Ronald Fraser as Captain Flint is a total disaster and completely misplays the role. The sailing scenes are not well done. The boats are continuously gybing to and fro without really going anywhere.
In conclusion, this film is a good taste of the book, and it would be fun to see more movies of the other S&A books made. The BBC did Coot Club and Big Six quite well some time ago.
Yes, pretty wooden acting from the children, but I think that was
pretty common 34 years ago! However, it's still a good film.
Regarding the likelihood of any parent allowing their children to do what the Walkers did, even at the time - my uncle aged 14 was allowed to take his two younger brothers (10 and 8) overnight camping in a very similar boat on the Solent in 1926 - a far more dangerous place to sail! They were all "not duffers, didn't drown".
I think the film still appeals to younger kids. I took my god-daughter and a friend (8 and 6) to the island in a small dinghy with tan sails, and we lit a fire at the camp ground and filled a kettle from the lake, just as the Walkers do in the film. That was in 2005, and they loved it!
I read the Swallows and Amazon books about 40 years ago, but waited until now to see the film! I felt the film perfectly captures the quaint atmosphere of the books and the times in which they were set. The film may not be to modern taste, but it must be considered as a faithful rendition of the original writing, and viewed in that light. Not for the unsophisticated viewer.
I certainly went into this wanting to like it; I am the kind who can be pray
to the odd bout of nostalgia... For days I have seen and for those I have
not. I may have seen this film as a child, but I have no strong recollection
of it. It can certainly be said, however, that childhood memories are in
some sense evoked by watching it, seeing as "Swallows and Amazons" deals
with childhood; a decidedly different childhood, of course, but there is a
link. I enjoyed mine, as the fine "fellows" here seem to; but it is an oddly
regimented, conservative ideal that is espoused by the film, despite the tag
of "adventure" and the promise of exploration.
I have not read any of the Ransome series of books based around these children's adventures, so I'm in no position to comment on them as fiction. I can certainly comment, though, on the merits of this film as entertainment. It is perhaps with a degree of sadness that I sense that it could not really appeal to much of today's child population. Times have obviously changed very much. But books like "Cider with Rosie" and "Carrie's War", less oppressively traditional perhaps, may still have a good chance.
The photography is unquestionably very alluring; capturing enough of the visual beauty of a golden English summer of times past. The more metaphorical sides of the "golden summer", or of childhood, are sadly never really delved into. I can see Ransome's work would perhaps read a lot better than this film plays, in this regard. The acting here, of the children, is okay for what it is. The youngest chap is the most amusing; a hapless old chap of a buffer... Roger. And I quote the "I can't see anything!" bit as prime evidence of his endearing, if not all that well played, haplessness. Titty is probably the most endearingly and memorably played, otherwise. The adults make little impression. Not enough of Ronald Fraser's "Captain Flint" figure perhaps... He does engage a bit when on screen. Interesting and perhaps amusing to see that "Zanna" Hamilton, is the same girl who went on to play Julia in "1984" as Suzannah Hamilton...
Anyway, I shouldn't be harsh on this film, but it really is flawed. It has its pleasures, and is inoffensively watchable, but one would have to be very indulgent to fully endorse it as a film. It doesn't have enough, frankly, of the wistful complexity that we all know childhood to be composed of. The past is indeed a foreign country, whereas here it is a rather enclosed, parochial and familiar one.
I watched this over the Easter hols and found myself surprisingly
engaged in a film which had no major plot beyond two groups of siblings
befriending each and just enjoying their summer. It was a nice insight
into how people, in particular children, were in the early 20th century
and, at times, I was almost envious of them to be living in a time
without the pressure of exams, employment, the threat of nuclear war,
terrorism, etc. It does leave you wondering if the price we paid for
the joys of technology and advancement in general was a bit too steep.
Still, I found it hard to believe a mother would just let her four children sleep on some island for nights on end; at one point the youngest of the girls, aged no more than nine, was left alone and the mother, when finally checking up on the children, didn't seem that bothered. I also thought the eldest of the Swallow boys and the two Amazon girls were a tad too old to be playing pretend games, particularly when at times they honestly seemed to believe there were pirates lurking around a river in the middle of England. And after about forty minutes, I was wanting more action than some make-believe game the children were playing of invading pirates.
On the whole, it is a decent fare and an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours if there is nothing else on TV. I think it would appeal to older people in their sixties, who might easily identify their own childhoods with to children and their 'adventures', compared to younger people who want a bit more action and excitement in their films.
I read all the Arthur Ransome books as a child, and re-read them
recently as an adult, but until today had not seen this film.
It's well filmed, with only minor plot adaptations (although large chunks are missed out), and the scenery and period details are especially well done. The boats look good!
The chunks missed out from the original story do give the film a slightly "chopped" feeling - it's difficult sometimes to work out how the characters got where they are.
The acting lets the film down a bit, I think. The best of the Swallows is Titty by quite a long way - Susan is OK, but nothing special, and the boys are both awful - the worst kind of declamatory child acting. The Amazons are pretty good, but as they feature less in the book the bad acting of John and Roger really does spoil the film a bit. Odd that of these actors, John seems to have gone on to have the best career!
The thing which the film lacks most, perhaps inevitably, is the narrative. Watching the film made me realize just how the skillful prose of the books draws you into another world - something the film doesn't quite manage.
A difficult story but translated to film almost perfectly.
It is not easy to meet the expectations of thousands of readers of these popular adolescent novels once they have grown up. But this is an excellent try.
Spoilt to a certain extent my unspectacular casting of the children, but Ronald Fraser more than compensates!
Needless to say for a UK film of the period the lighting etc. is professional to the extreme.
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