As technology has improved over the years, there’s no denying that we’ve come to accept a certain amount of visual artifice when it comes to films aimed at the whole family. And so, at a time where Pixar and Superheroes seem to be cinema’s biggest draw for groups of all ages, there’s something incredibly refreshing about the traditional, back-to-basics storytelling of this latest adaptation of Arthur Ransome’s classic series of novels, Swallows and Amazons.
Directed by Philippa Lowthorpe, it is the cinematic equivalent of a parent who has had enough of their child staying indoors playing video games all summer, so enrolls them in some kind of beaver/brownie troop in an attempt to get them outdoors. It’s like a deep breath of clean summer air after months of inhaling the toxic fumes from other industrial-sized blockbusters, and a reminder to children and adults alike that there’s fun to be had, beauty to be seen, away from all the complications of modern life.
Set in the Lake District during a 1935 summer, the film in itself is like a mini-break to the countryside, complete with sailing, camping, fishing and exploring. Shot as if from a distance, Lowthorpe, with the help from Julian Court’s lovely cinematography, virtually transports you to the tranquility of the lakes and rolling green hills that surround them.
For anybody familiar with the source material, you’ll know that the story revolves around two groups of children from different families; the Walkers and the Blacketts. However, with the brand new addition of a plot thread involving Russian spies – an addition which allows the story more dramatic moments such as a chase on the roof of a train, or a seafaring clash between some boats and a plane – there are a number of creative choices taken in terms of its narrative, which may be enough to alienate some fans of Ransome’s books.
Through all of the changes though, Swallows and Amazons does manage to maintain the spirit of childhood innocence that is embedded in the series, largely due to the perfect casting of the children. They’re an endearing group of actors – supported here by the likes of Rafe Spall, Andrew Scott and the criminally underused Kelly Macdonald – and there’s an element to their performances which feels untouched, as if Lowthorpe has allowed them some creative freedom in their acting.
You believe in the children’s characters, which is really half the battle in films like this. The other half is won through its stunning locations and a sense of adventure – as well as some peril – that has become a rarity in family pictures today. It seems strange to call something such as Swallows and Amazons a rarity, because there would have been a time where this would have been essential viewing, perhaps even a classic. Unfortunately, its quaint inoffensiveness might mean that it’ll be overlooked by audiences, in favour of something like Nine Lives.
It would be a shame, becuase I largely enjoyed Swallows and Amazons for those exact reasons. It’s the type of film which would go down perfectly on a Sunday night, with a cup of tea and a slice of cake. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Image credit to http://www.impawards.com