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Swallows & Amazons History
The Swallows & The Amazons was first a book - written by Arthur Ransome in 1930. As a child it was a favourite of mine along with the other books in the series, and I was captivated by the adventures of these children who were allowed to take boats out on a lake and camp on their very own island without any adults.
The film of the Swallows & Amazons was made in 1973, and it follows the book really very closely unlike many modern films made of books. It stars Virginia McKenna as the children's mother, and Sophie Neville as one of the main child characters and was directed by Claude Whatham.
The original book was inspired by the summers that Arthur Ransome spent teaching his friends children to sail. The two real boats were called Swallow and Mavis but obviously Ransome decided that Mavis wasn't as good a name as Amazon when he came to write the books.
the 5 Walker children and their mother come to stay in the Lake District for the holidays. The eldest four (the youngest is a baby), get permission to sail out in their small dingy called 'Swallow' and stay on the island in the middle of the lake.
While staying on the island, they meet 2 girls - Nancy (real name Ruth), and Peggy Blackett who are pirates sailing the yacht 'Amazon' and their uncle who lives on a houseboat on the island. The meeting of these groups is begun by a loud bang where someone has set off a banger on the houseboat and 'Captain Flint' (houseboat owner) thinks that it's the Swallows (The Walker kids) who have done this, when in fact it was really his nieces getting their own back on him for spending the summer writing instead of playing with them. What with this, and Arrows being shot into the middle of their camp, a stolen boat, a burglary and a fishing expedition, a bit of a row ensues but all ends well with a parley, boat race, a party on the houseboat and lots of fun for everyone.
This is quite a dated film in many ways from the language used to the clothing worn by the children, but despite this, it's a film which still works because it's one about kids. Some of the speech is a little stilted in places from some of these child actors, but partly that's from the book and the era it's set in, so you sort of don't find it a problem.
For me, the two best actors in this of the children are Peggy and Titty (yes I know it may make some kids snigger now, but it was a perfectly respectable name till quite recently). Peggy is a bit of a chatterbox and the lass playing her does very well with her, giving away little secrets and snippets and generally sounding very real. I particularly love one little scene where she's saying that Nancy's real name is Ruth, but that their uncle says that the Amazon Pirates were ruthless so she got renamed. It's taken directly from the book, but it's the way she says it all which makes me smile. Titty in the book is an imaginative child always dreaming and writing and pretending things, and you get a good sense of that in the film with things like seeing her imaginings when she's left alone on the island and is writing and pretending to be Robinson Crusoe all alone for many years.
You don't get quite the sense of Susan in the film as you do in the book to be honest - in the book she's quite fussy and a bit prim, but very good at cooking and organising and looking after the others which is why the adults trust the kids to camp alone. In the film this is made much less of, although she does still prod Roger the youngest to make sure he swims and doesn't just splash, and things. The others however are much as the book portrays them.
This is not the sort of film every child today will enjoy to be honest. I'd put it more as the sort of thing that might be enjoyed when they're feeling a bit tired or poorly perhaps, or when they want something to watch with mum. It's also the sort of film that those of us adults who were brought up on a diet of the books may well enjoy as a little trip down memory lane.
I've seen this for around a fiver in a variety of places, and I don't think I'd want to spend more than that on it certainly, in fact to be honest I'd say that around £2-3 would probably be my limit for it. I got mine for just 5p from a charity shop (in a damaged cardboard case), and it was a version that was given away as a freebie in the daily mail. For this price I thought it was very worthwhile.
To the Manor Born (DVD)
The film of Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons has eluded the public scene for many years. I have had it on VHS recorded from BBC1 at Christmas 1984! How wonderful to finally be able to get it on DVD and no longer worry about how long the VHS tape will survive!
For those that don't know, the book is set in England in the 1920s, and concerns three siblings holidaying for the first time in the Lake District. They soon find that it would be far more exciting camping on an island on the like rather than staying in a rather dark and dismal farmhouse with their mother (played by Virginia McKenna). The film follows the Swallows, John, Roger, Susan and Titty as they make friends with and fight against the Amazon pirates (Nancy and Peggy) on the lake.
This is excellent gentle viewing for the family; a film about an England of the past. This is a film about characters, all of which have their own individual personalities, unlike today's children's viewing. The film has been excellently transferred to DVD, and certain when I bought it on Amazon, is available at a great price.
Being brought up on Enid Blyton and Arthur Ransome stories I was very excited when I heard of this film a couple of years ago. A very gentle film, this takes me right back to my childhood in the countryside that sometimes feels like another world. I watch this whenever I want to return to a more innocent time, a time when adventures meant camping out overnight in homemade tents and cooking over a campfire
The Walker children go on holiday with their mother, an ethereal looking Virginia McKenna, to the beauties of the Lake District. Serious minded John is to be captain, with sensible Susan as first mate, the delightfully fey Titty (no dont laugh; it used to be a reasonable name a long time ago I am sure!) and not forgetting young Boy Roger are to sail, in Swallow, to an island in the lake to camp overnight. Permission for Roger to join the crew sailing away to camp is given by the absent father in the form of a telegram; Better drowned than duffers if not duffers wont drown. Stephen Grendon is delightful in his portrayal of a very confused Roger, his face creases in bewilderment as he tries to decipher this message and then breaks into a charming gentle beam as it is explained that he is allowed to join the older children on their adventure. Later, on a trip to stock up with supplies he is given the charge of guarding the boat from natives and which he takes very seriously indeed by being monosyllabic to friendly chat from a passing gentleman
On the island the children make a camp with tents and a fire, just like my friends and I did in the wilds of Norfolk at their age. While exploring their new domain they are stalked by Amazons Nancy and Peggy Blackett (Nancys real name is Ruth, but her uncle had told her that amazons were ruthless). Both Nancy and Peggy are interesting characters with their own quirks, Nancy clearing being the bossy older sister
War is declared between the Swallows and the Amazons, resulting in some night time sailing and plenty of plotting to outdo each other. Once honour has been satisfied and the battle won the two sides team up to declare war on the Amazons uncle Jim, who used to be a pirate but became very boring once he begun to write his book of his adventures
All the actors play their parts so well; the children are innocent and excited and brave by turns, Ronald Fraser is a magnificent uncle, curmudgeonly, impatient, intolerant and yet charming. A very touching scene is when he offers his hand in apology to John following a disagreement, he looks so sheepish and sad I want to hug him and in return John very seriously shakes hands
The camera work in this film is beautiful; it really feels as if the children are completely alone for their camping adventure and the stunning Lake District scenery is shown not just as a backdrop to the movie, but also as the stunning natural wonder that it is in its own right
I was lucky enough to pick this up in HMV as a double DVD with the original Railway Children for around seven pounds, so I have double delights on one DVD. Amazon currently lists this special DVD at just under fifteen pounds or a DVD of the television version with The Coot Club and the Big Six for £15.99, which I am sorely tempted by now!
If you long for a return to more peaceful, innocent age, when children really could have freedom to grow and explore this film is a must see. Watch it through a childs eyes and be transported to those long hot summer holidays of youth