Swallows and Amazons is a film adaptation of a popular children’s novel by Arthur Ransome. The film portrays the bond between siblings, childhood rivalry, and just a hint of espionage. Set in the Summer of 1935 in a holiday home in Northern England, Swallows and Amazons revolves around the Walker family, comprised of a Mother (Kelly MacDonald, Boardwalk Empire and Brave) and her four golden-haired children, John, Susan, Tatty and the youngest Roger, en route to their yearly summer holiday to North Cumberland. They stay with the Jacksons, an elderly married couple played by Harry Enfield (Kevin and Perry) and Jessica Hynes (Harry Potter).
The Walker mother played by MacDonald reluctantly allows the children to sail to an island in the middle of a Cumberland lake; setting the scene for their unlikely adventure with the Soviet Secret Service. Local man Jack Turner (Rafe Spall, Life of Pie) is being followed by Lazlow (Andrew Scott, Sherlock), a Russian secret service officer who suspects him of stealing Russian military secrets. The Walkers arrive on the Island and claim it to be “Walker Island”, but soon find out there are other children, the Amazons, who claim it for themselves and a competition for the Island commences.
For the most part, the film stays true to the book, one major difference changing the name of middle child Titty to Tatty to save blushes. It is a family film for all ages, depicting a time before children had internet or smart phones to entertain themselves and through the art of imagination they create a world of piracy and wonder that is reminiscent of all our younger days. The interaction between the four Walker children is both funny and adorable, especially the young actor who plays Roger, fulfilling the role of spoilt youngest child perfectly.
The film has a steady pace to it, no long and drown out or pointless scenes. The best way to describe how you feel after watching is to compare it to a refreshing Sunday country stroll. The striking shots of the North Cumberland rolling hills is easy on the eyes and lowers the blood pressure, giving the viewer a sense of a relaxing and escaping holiday in the wild countryside.
However, Irishman Andrew Scott seems almost typecast now as the mischievous and sinister villain; his character is not far removed from the role of Moriarty that made his career in Sherlock. Harry Enfield’s loveable Northern English accent soothes the ear and while he has his funny gaffes throughout the film, the chemistry with his on screen wife Hynes gives an authentic look at the typical married love/hate relationship. A criticism of the book, and it comes across of the film is the simplistic spy storyline, but we must remember the story was written over 86 years ago for children and helps to add to a nail biting conclusion. Over all the film is enjoyable, the Walker Children warm the hearts of those who understand the lovable and sometimes annoying sibling relationship. Cinema goers who know the plight being an older brother or sister, it’s a recommended watch.
Swallows and Amazons is out on general release on 19 August 2016.
Oisín Ó Cuilleanáin