Swallows and Amazons (1974)
Pirates of the Lake District
He's probably a retired pirate - Titty Walker
Watching "Swallows and Amazons" now it is impossible not to notice how much the world has changed, both the real world and the world of film making and it is a saddening experience. Here we have a story which sees a group of children having a summer of adventure and exploring, sailing to an island on a lake where they camp out and pretend that two girls in another boat are pirates. That just wouldn't happen now as not only is the world a more troubled place where allowing children to camp on their own is not realistic but thanks to computer games and other distractions children don't seem to have the inkling to have these sorts of adventures, even the imagination to do so. And it is a shame as whilst I was born around the time this adaptation of "Swallows and Amazons" came out I still had similar adventures, exploring the woods and making up stories with my friends, awarding me with some cherished memories and experiences.
It's the summer of 1929 and Mrs. Walker (Virginia McKenna - Ring of Bright Water) and her 4 children head up to the Lake District for a summer holiday whilst her husband, a Naval Officer, is stationed in Malta. Having reached the tranquil lakes John, Susan, Titty and Robert (Simon West, Suzanna Hamilton, Sophie Neville and Stephen Grendon) set sail on their little boat the "Swallow" for an island in the middle of the lake where they plan to camp and explore. But they discover that 2 girls, the Blackett sister's also have claim to the island having arrived there on their boat the "Amazon" and so a rivalry forms for ownership of Wild Cat Island between the Swallows and the Amazons.
Now I have never read any of Arthur Ransome's "Swallows and Amazons" books or if I did I sadly don't remember them and as such can't say how well it has been adapted in to this movie. But what I can say is that director Claude Whatham has done a decent job of capturing a slice of childhood when children did go on adventures and camping without fearing what could happen. From watching the Walker family collecting supplies for their adventure to them sailing to the island which they name Wild Cat Island and exploring, setting up camp, collecting firewood there is a real nostalgic charm to it. And it is so much fun watching these young children use their imagination where anything is possible, they see a tree which they creatively think would make a good lighthouse and whilst they haven't got the rope they need they will get some, it's simple and uncomplicated.
The imaginative fun continues as they spot a man on a nearby houseboat and as he owns a parrot and has a small cannon think he must be a retired pirate who they call "Captain Flint". And then there is the rivalry with the Amazons the Blackett sisters who want control of Wild Cat Island leading to even more adventures as they declare war on each other, trying to capture each others boats. And I could go on because this tale of childhood fun evolves with more imaginative adventures as well as dose of reality as one adventure leads to trouble.
It does, as I already pointed out, make you realise how much the world has changed and how children of today are unable to have these sorts of experiences. And it also makes you realise how where once a child's imagination could provide hours of fun now the need for computer games and the likes off dominates things.
Of course it is hard not to notice how dated "Swallows and Amazons" now appears even when you enjoy the innocence and simplicity of children having a summer of adventure. And whilst you can appreciate certain things, some things like over acting just sadly spoil things which really comes down to the poor casting of Ronald Fraser as Uncle Jim aka Captain Flint. Fraser was a great actor but watching him trying to be deliver the curmudgeonly characteristic of the eccentric Uncle Jim ends up being both over the top and too thespian. It is in many ways the one thing which spoils the movie as the rest of the performances are fun and often feel unscripted.
What this all boils down to is that "Swallows and Amazons" is old fashioned and dated and very simplistic but it is also charming, nostalgic and a lot of fun. And it certainly makes you realise how much the world has changed especially for children who no longer have the freedom and security to have these sorts of adventures.
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