The Robinson Way of Life
is sentenced and shipped to the penal colony with his wife Laura (Brana Bajic) and children Fritz (Jesse Spencer), Ernst (Neil Newbon), Jacob (Charlie Lucas/ Andrew Lee Potts) and Sarah (Bonnie Wright/ Emma Pierson) choosing to go there with him. But on the way a storm causes major problems and as the ship they are on gets in to trouble the family get split up with Jacob ending up on a life raft with Captain Blunt (Roger Allam). When the rest of the Robinson family make it to dry land they come to terms with their predicament and set about making the island their home, building rooms in the trees and befriending the only native they meet, a fisherman called Namatiti (Rided Lardpanna). But whilst the Robinson's have made the island home, Captain Blunt has turned to a life of piracy with Jacob following suit. When Blunt kidnaps Emily (Jenna Harrison) the daughter of a British captain who is hunting him down a series of events transpire which will unite everyone but not in a good way.
If that combination of Robinson, ship wreck, island and pirates all sounds a tad familiar well it might be because "Stranded" is a two part TV mini-series based on Johann David Wyss's novel which has been adapted on numerous occasions as "The Swiss Family Robinson". Now I like many grew up on the 1960 version of Wyss's story with John Mills and Dorothy McGuire as the Robinson parents who turn an island into a home with a creative series of tree houses and contraptions to provide a few home comforts and few versions have come close to providing the same level of entertainment. And I have to say that "Stranded" whilst an impressive made for TV movie isn't as entertaining as the 1960 version but offers an interesting take on the classic tale with elements embellished to providing interesting sub-plots from the friendship with Namatiti to their lost son Jacob ending up a pirate.
Now for the most "Stranded" sticks to what many will know of the story, from the Robinson's ending up ship wrecked and stranded, to building a series of tree houses to eventually having to defend the island from a pirate attack. All those basics are still there including the brotherly jealousy which stirs when they Fritz and Ernst meet Emily Montrose who escapes from the pirates. But it is the sub plots which make this version interesting, from Jacob becoming a pirate to the whole situation with Namatiti which leads to a change in the initially pig headed David when Laura is bitten by a snake and has to let someone else take charge. They certainly help to keep "Stranded" interesting and they also keep it as a drama because pretty much all the humour of the 1960 version has been pushed aside in favour of more drama.
But the trouble with "Stranded" is that at a meaty 180 minutes it does feel at times slow going especially during the first half. In trying to build some back story it takes an age to get to the point where the Robinson's end up shipwrecked and stranded and it is not until around the 90 minute mark that they build their impressive tree house. It is not just that it drags but it also lacks moments of energy, both visually and from the score to give it the burst of energy you often feel like it needs. And the sad thing is that because it doesn't have the energy the formality of the characterisations ends up coming across as forced with ever so perfect and very polite English being spoken. It is a shame as the actors which include a young Bonnie Wright do a good job but with that drawn out feeling it makes their performances some times come across as stilted.
What this all boils down to is that "Stranded" is a good TV Movie/ Mini-Series which delivers a dramatic and embellished version of the well known story. But for me it lacks the energy needed to sustain your attention for 180 minutes with a first half which feels drawn out.