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Four children dream of escaping the tedium of a summer holiday with their mother. When finally given permission to camp on their own on an island in the middle of a vast lake, they are overjoyed. But when they get there they discover they may not be alone… The battle for ownership of a lonely island teaches them the skills of survival, the value of friendship and the importance of holding your nerve.
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Swallows and Amazons movie full length review - Enid Blytonized
Swallows and Amazons - I must admit that I went to see this with a certain amount of dread. I have loved the books since I read them as a child some 40+ years ago and they have been shared with Daughter Number Two at bedtimes over the past few years.
My fears were justified.
I KNOW you can't just take a book and film it. I KNOW that what works well on the page doesn't necessarily work well on the screen. But what I don't understand is why someone would take a great book that has worked its spell on generations, take the very thing that make it special and successful (the world of childhood imagination, free from the constraints of adult supervision), dump it, and graft on a whole new layer of story ideas about spies and secret documents that, quite frankly, looks like it was lifted straight out of an Enid Blyton Famous Five book.
I can also understand that characters have to be altered for the screen: the name 'Titty' would raise unwanted snigger and was understandably changed to 'Tatty', Mrs Walker was played by a Scottish actress and so was sensibly changed from having an Australian childhood to one in the Highlands, but what is less understandable is the changing of Susan's character from a sensible, organised 'ship's mate' into a bumbling, whining klutz who can't fry a fish... I'm baffled. (If this was some attempt to avoid 'sexism' it failed miserably as all the other female characters in the film were shown being thoroughly domestic) It just robbed Susan of any strength of character at all. She just becomes a blonde piece of the scenery who doesn't really do anything except feed John the odd line.
One of the things that make the book special - especially for landlubbers like myself - is the way that the technicalities of sailing are bought so vividly to life. Reefing, jibbing, coming about, raising the keel, raising the sail, stepping the mast... all that technical stuff that the children in the books understand, and are so proficient at, is reduced here to a few lines like "Go faster, John!", "We're losing them!" - usually delivered off-camera or in long shot as the crew of the Swallow just sit there in the boat like cargo. For all the shots of boats in the water there's very little sailing going on in this film. And sailing is at the heart of the books. The night sailing up the lake to seize the Amazon is the whole heart of the book. In the film the night sail up the lake is disposed of in a few quick shots - in daylight.
I was incredibly disappointed and Number Two Daughter (aged 13) was too. She thought someone who hadn't read the book might like it as a film in its own right but as an adaptation of Swallows and Amazons? Sorry. No.