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DVD: Swallows & Amazons | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Swallows & Amazons

DVD: Swallows & Amazons

Stiff Seventies film adaptation of Arthur Ransome’s classic children’s book

As Titty Walker, Sophie Neville (right) sets off for adventure on the good ship 'Swallow'

“We were making a film about the ideal summer holiday,” says actor Sophie Neville in one of the extras on this "40th Anniversary Special Edition" of the 1974 adaptation of Arthur Ransome's book Swallows & Amazons. As Titty Walker, she played a girl camping out with her three siblings on a Lake District island while engaging in wholesome outdoor fun and mounting a play war against the Blackett sisters, the Amazons of the title.

Swallows & Amazons is the evergreen and totemic book from 1929 in which Ransome celebrated the Lake District and its power to delight. The 1970s cinema version was bankrolled by EMI, who were looking for another piece of action after financing the similarly historical and rural-set literary adaptation The Railway Children. The film also followed a 1960s BBC translation of the book to screen which Ransome recorded in his diaries that he disliked. No such problem could have arisen in 1974 as Ransome had died in 1967. The BBC are about to do it again.

Swallows & Amazons 1974 Virginia McKenna Mrs WalkerAlthough faithful to the book and using Ransome’s real-life settings the film is slow and talky, so doesn’t readily conjure the Walker children’s fantasy world. “Hoorah for father” is the cry which comes after their mother (Virginia McKenna) announces their absent Naval officer dad has telegraphed to say they can camp on the island in the middle of the lake (pictured right, holding the telegram aloft). But it isn’t shouted with a convincingly spontaneous joy.

The extras reveal the child actors never saw a script, but instead were given their lines before each set up was captured on film: this must have contributed to the film’s stiltedness. It lacks the unfettered joy of Children’s Film Foundation productions from the period. Nonetheless, it looks beautiful and it is also amusing watching older sibling John (Simon West) bossing his younger brother and two sisters about.

As well as current-day interviews with the cast (including McKenna), the DVD is made even more interesting by the inclusion of Neville’s family’s home movies of the filming and a lovely short film on the area, Ransome and the setting.

'Swallows & Amazons' lacks the unfettered joy of Children’s Film Foundation productions from the period


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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So when's the new Swallows and Amazons film gonna come out?

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