Swallows and Amazons movie full length review - A monstrous trashing of a brilliant story
What a mess. What a travesty. Point by point, scene by scene, the film makers went through destroying the characters one by one.
I will start by saying I am biased. I am a sailor. I kept my boat in Secret Water for twenty years. I live in Ransome country, the plots of several of his books takes place a matter of a few miles away. His boats Nancy Blackett and Peter Duck are familiar sights on the Deben. I've read most of the books aloud to the children.
"Better drowned than duffers, if not duffer won't drown" says the famous telegram. Drown the lot of them then, I say.
The capable and responsible Walker children in the book are converted into a bunch of moronic twits who are so lacking in skill they cannot get to the island without losing their stores over the side of the boat. The mate Susan, whose skillful catering and management underpins all of the Swallows adventures in the books, freely admits that she can't bake, and destroys their caught fish in the frying pan after butchering it with an apparently blunt knife and mashing it to pulp. She spends the rest of the film moaning that her brother John won't tell her anything.
Possibly one might have been forewarned by the politically correct renaming of the wonderful Titty of the books, ships cartographer and log keeper, into 'Tatty'. Tatty is the word.
The book-based Swallows pride themselves in the ability to start a campfire with a single match. Not so the wallies in this film, who lose their box of matches into the lake.
Captain John, in the books full of a sense of responsibility for his crew and ship, continually shouts at his brother and sisters, blaming them for every misfortune. He abandons members of his crew without any indication what he is doing. He also succeeds in letting Roger, who cannot swim, fall overboard in the middle of the lake.
There is little to say about Nancy, the pinnacle of most of the stories; as she was wholly lacklustre and appeared in every scene to be acting.
The parents are just as bad. Mrs Walker is clearly lacking the slightest sense of judgement to let her continually fighting unfriendly children anywhere near a sailing boat, let alone in the absence of life jackets. Mrs Jackson, the kindly Native at Holly Howe, turns out to be a pessimistic grouch.
Jim Blackett, Titty's 'retired pirate', amazingly, turns out to be a spy being pursued by Russians. The film practically revolves around this extraordinarily bad idea.
And it culminates, would you believe it, with the two crews of the Swallow and Amazon lassoing a Sea Plane - in the control of the Russian spies and carrying the bound captive uncle Jim - in the attempt to restrain it from taking off. Which they are surprised to find does not work.
Every moment had me cringing a bit deeper into my seat, as the unbearably unlikely plot unfolded, and the Swallows demonstrated more and more that they should be far far away from water.
We watched the old film version as an antidote. What a relief to see these young and capable actors taking on the roles in the books with such a high degree of success, and following pretty faithfully the entertaining and amusing story line that has delighted millions of readers. Just a beautiful tale of children doing cool things.