Swallows and Amazons (2016 film)

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The Lakes, April 2016 031I’m going to hold my hands up and say that I’m not all that into the Swallows and Amazons books.  However, I am really into the Lake District, so I’ve been eagerly anticipating seeing this film because I knew that a lot of it was filmed on and around Coniston Water, which is where the book on which it was based was set. The photo I’ve put with this review was taken when I was at Coniston in April.

It’s a shame that the weather seems to’ve been cloudy for most of the time they were filming, but never mind. We’ve got some glorious shots of Coniston!   There’s a lot of Swallows and Amazons-based tourism there already, and hopefully this film’ll give that a boost. I think that the area where they moor the boat at “Rio” is on Derwentwater, though. And the scenes in “Rio” itself were filmed in Heptonstall, near Hebden Bridge. I originally thought it was Haworth, because the railway scenes at the beginning were definitely filmed on the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway, and it’s a similar-looking place with the stone buildings and the steep main street with setts, so my apologies to Heptonstall for getting that wrong :-). It’s a very pretty village, and I understand that they needed somewhere that didn’t look modern, but it’s a very Pennine look and there aren’t any villages in the Lake District which look anything like that! Oh well.

Oh, and, whilst I’m having a bit of a moan, the map at the beginning made it look as if Coniston Water was in Cumberland. It’s in Lancashire! Close to the border with Westmorland. Definitely not in Cumberland! OK, moan over. Just one more comment about locations – a lot of the island scenes were filmed at Plumpton Rocks, near Harrogate, presumably because it was easier to film there than on an island in a lake. I must go there some time … but the next time I’m likely to be in that neck of the woods is for the Harrogate Book Fair in mid-November, and that’s probably not the greatest time of year to be wandering around rocks :-).

Back to the film. It must be quite challenging making a film where the main characters are all children, but the young actors and actresses in this did a sterling job. The four playing the Walker children were excellent, and the two playing the Blackett children were fairly good too. The two playing Titty/Tatty and Roger were very young, and I think both making their acting debuts. Very impressive performances.

The name change from Titty to Tatty will upset the purists, but I think film-makers are in a difficult position with that sort of thing ;-). I can remember some kids in my class at primary school sniggering their heads off over Dick and (Aunt) Fanny in the Famous Five books, and that was over thirty years ago!  I don’t think anyone really need get too upset over it. There’s been some de-poshing (have I just made that word up?) as well – Mrs Walker speaks with a strong Scottish accent, not RP, there’s no nursemaid, and the scene in which the policeman is intimidated by the Blackett girls because his mum used to work for their family’s been removed – but I think that works quite well.

The spy story that’s been put in, on the other hand, really does distort the storyline. The burglary plot in the book isn’t particularly convincing – what exactly did the burglars think that Jim Turner had on his boat that was worth stealing? – but I think I could have lived without people chasing each other along the roof of a train, having a fight on a seaplane in mid-air and threatening each other with guns. That sort of thing is great in a James Bond film, but it doesn’t really fit into the world of Swallows and Amazons. It wasn’t even concluded properly: we never did find out why Jim Turner had been going to Leningrad. Everyone seems to be too obsessed with action these days! We’ve had our gentle, nostalgic Sunday evening TV dramas – Heartbeat, Born and Bred, Where The Heart Is, Home Fires, etc – taken away, and now they have to put James Bond scenes into Swallows and Amazons!

The main storylines are there, though, and, most importantly, the main themes are there. It’s that wonderful world of childhood adventure. No-one would dream of letting four children, two of them only of primary school age, go sailing off and camping by themselves now, and I doubt that they would have done even in the inter-war years, but the idea of is very special. Didn’t we all read books by Enid Blyton, or Arthur Ransome or Lorna Hill or whoever else, when we were young kids, and imagine ourselves spending our summer holidays with our siblings or cousins or friends, no adults allowed?

And, even now, there’s a wonderful sense of freedom in the Lake District that you just don’t get in urban or suburban areas.   It takes me about an hour and twenty minutes to get from home to Windermere, on a weekend morning when there isn’t much traffic. Getting to Coniston takes longer, because you can’t go very quickly on that twisty-turny road between Ambleside and Coniston, but it’s still not that far. But it’s a different world, especially in the quieter areas. And the book, and the film, show aspects of Lakeland life at that time which would have been completely unfamiliar to those coming from elsewhere, notably the scene with the charcoal-burners.

The Lake District’s there. The sense of freedom and adventure’s there. Those are the main things. Purists won’t like the spy story, and doubtless there will be people whingeing that it’s all too white and too middle-class, but this is a lovely film.   I really want to jump in my car and head for the Lakes now!   So many children’s books are set there. That’s no coincidence.

2 thoughts on “Swallows and Amazons (2016 film)

  1. mrsredboots

    One of the things about the “Swallows and Amazons” series is that responsible adults are never that far away – in the first book, indeed, the children’s mother visits them every couple of days, and in the subsequent ones there is usually someone they could – but usually don’t – call on if necessary.

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