UK Release Date: 19th August 2016
Runtime: 97 minutes
Director: Philippa Lowthorpe
Writer: Andrea Gibb
Starring: Dane Hughes, Orla Hill, Kelly Macdonald, Rafe Spall, Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen, Bobby McCulloch, Seren Hawkes, Hannah Jayne Thorp
Synopsis: A group of adventurous kids on a trip to the countryside claim a secluded island for their own, only to find that some of the local children got there first and don’t want to give up their land.
The summer season of 2016 has been one of noisy, bloated blockbusters that have almost universally been disappointing. In amongst the goliaths of cinema, it didn’t seem likely that homely British adventure flick Swallows and Amazons, adapted from a 1930 novel, would make much of an impression. It seemed likely that the film would drift along like its characters’ boat on the lake at the centre of the narrative. However, with its gentle, parochial charm and interesting plot, the film emerges as one of the most surprising delights of the summer months.
Mrs Walker (Kelly Macdonald) takes her children, including eldest son John (Dane Hughes) and bookish creative Tatty (Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen) on holiday in the Lake District. They have a strange encounter with the mysterious Jim Turner (Rafe Spall) on a train and soon discover that he is being pursued by the plum-voiced Lazlow (Andrew Scott). John and his siblings convince their mother to allow them to take a trip out to an abandoned island in the middle of the lake, where they become embroiled in a turf war with the Blackett children (Seren Hawkes and Hannah Jayne Thorp), who have already claimed the island as their own.
Swallows and Amazons is the equivalent of an afternoon playing cricket in the park, followed by a cosy evening in front of an open fire with a cup of tea. It’s as British as the Queen wearing Geri Halliwell’s Union Jack dress whilst watching The Great British Bake Off. It’s not the kind of movie you can see playing well across the pond, but there is plenty to keep Brit audiences interested in the sweetly nostalgic tale of a distinctly middle class summer.
The film is helped along by strong performances, including from its spirited young cast. Dane Hughes is solid as the brave young lad at the centre of the storytelling and special praise must go to Bobby McCulloch, who is adorable and identifiable as the youngest sibling constantly treated like a baby by his brothers and sisters. The adult cast also give Swallows and Amazons plenty of life, with Rafe Spall excelling in a role that has more intrigue and darkness than the broad comic creations he usually finds himself portraying.
It’s Spall’s plot, which mixes a sinister pirate story with a flash of espionage, that feels a little unwelcome and unnecessary in Swallows and Amazons. The story thread is not present in the original novel, but was clearly added here to generate some incident and drama in order to sell the film to a multiplex audience. The storytelling is a little all over the shop with this story, but Spall’s surprisingly complex performance is more than good enough to make up for the slightly ropey writing.
Minor scruples aside, Swallows and Amazons is simply a nostalgic, fun adventure for the summer. The relationships between the child characters are painted very well and their juvenile hijinks are far more interesting to watch than the rather serious adult storyline playing out alongside them. This is a film that is completely forgettable and never attempts to move the earth, but it’s diverting while it’s on the screen and it is sure to become a perennial favourite for British families.
Pop or Poop?
Swallows and Amazons is the cinematic equivalent of a cosy, if slightly worn, armchair. It doesn’t move mountains, but it’s great fun and a pleasant antidote to the hyper-serious and entirely unimpressive blockbusters that have rattled the walls of multiplexes throughout the summer.
This will become a British favourite for sure. Families will fall in love with its delightful simplicity and, at the end of the day, that’s the audience it wants.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.