Arthur Ransome’s classic novel about a group of children having boating adventures in the Lake District gets another screen version that strays quite a bit from the original book.
It’s an idyllic English summer between the two world wars and Mrs Walker (Macdonald) takes her children for a holiday in the countryside, staying at the home of Mr and Mrs Jackson (Harry Enfield and Jessica Hynes). Eldest John, sisters Susan and Tatty (renamed from the novel’s ‘Titty’) and annoying little brother Roger immediately want to take Mr Jackson’s boat ‘Swallow’ out onto the lake so they can explore an island at its centre, but once there they discover two sisters (the Amazons – Nancy and Peggy) have already laid claim to it. To add to their adventures, mysterious local Jim Turner (Spall) is lurking about on his houseboat while being watched by a Russian secret agent called Lazlow (Scott). What is his secret?
Despite the Russian spy subplot being added (in the novel, Turner is a writer like Ransome, whereas here the filmmakers have used another part of Ransome’s own life – his time working with MI5 – to spice things up) to give the kids something to do rather than just make fires and putter about on the lake, this is a very slow film that is unlikely to engage older children. The rivalry between the Swallows and Amazons that could have been fun fizzles out in a matter of minutes, the Russian story feels slight even when the children put themselves in harm’s way, and only a seaplane stunt at the end that questions the children’s common sense really adds any interest.
While some grown-ups may watch wistfully remembering those days when kids, like those in the movie, actually played outdoors for hours at a time, even they will admit that this lovely-looking movie is dated rather than timeless, and just not engaging or well-paced enough to ever be a classic family movie.
Is Swallows And Amazons (2016) suitable for kids? Here are our parents’ notes...
This movie is aimed at children aged 8 and over – younger viewers may be a little scared when the children first explore the island, and when Roger comes across Lazlow at the dock.