Swallows and Amazons‘ free-spirited sense of preteen paradise is overwhelming, as if rose-tinted nostalgia of childhood adventures and better bygone days has been physically melded into the cameras’ lenses. The Lake District provides stunning scenery, beautifully captured by cinematographer Julian Court, the woods and water offering a diverse depth to play in. This is, of course, the setting for Arthur Ransome’s generation-defining stories of memorable summer holidays. Even if the details don’t directly apply, every viewer will relate to one or more of the children, in one or more of their situations; they are our avatars in this reimagining of our own upbringing.
The children, especially newcomer Bobby McCulloch as the youngest boy Roger, are adorable. Youthful exuberance abounds, and as their explorations evolve they run the gamut of emotions, displaying them with a childlike believability essential to the film. The adults too are fun to watch and, importantly, don’t get in the way too much. There’s enough of them to appreciate their role in forming the younger characters’ personalities, and to offer some actual plot, without overshadowing proceedings.
It is refreshing that, in keeping with the theme of preadolescent innocence, romantic love has no place here. The boys and girls aren’t distracted from their friendships and rivalries, and even the adults keep their hands and minds clean. That’s representative of Swallows and Amazons as a whole; Britain’s green-and-pleasantness condensed into an easy-to-swallow antidote to negativity.
Swallows and Amazons is perfectly enjoyable summer holiday material, as long as you don’t miss a sunny day to see it – you’ll instantly regret not being by/on a lake or playing at piracy. As a faithful adaptation, director Philippa Lowthorpe’s film will warm hearts in children of all ages.
CAST: Kelly Macdonald, Andrew Scott, Rafe Spall, Jessica Hynes
DIRECTOR: Philippa Lowthorpe
WRITERS: Andrea Gibb (screenplay), Arthur Ransome (novel)
SYNOPSIS: Children explore the Lake District on the boat “Swallow”, battling a rival gang of “Amazons” for control of an island, all set as Britain is on the brink of war.