Film Review: Swallows and Amazons (2016)

This adaptation of Swallows and Amazons ends up being a rather flat affair despite the presence of Andrew Scott and Rafe Spall

“They’ll be back before tea”

I was hoping for a little bit of old-school tea-time entertainment with this 2016 adaptation of Swallows and Amazons but it ends up being a rather flat affair. Arthur Ransome’s 1930 novel is the epitome of the idyllic childhood adventures, the notion of which the Tories are a little too enamoured, and Philippa Lowthorpe’s film certainly evokes that long-lost feel. 

We follow the Walker family as Kelly Macdonald’s Mrs Walker takes her 4 kids on holiday to the Lake District as their father is at sea with the Navy. The young whippersnappers spot an island in the lake next to their cottage and since it is 1935, Mrs Walker packs them a basket of food and two tents and lets them go camping there, sailing in the boat Swallow.

When they get there, they discover they’re not alone, two girls – the Amazons – have already set up camp and thus larks ensue. Additionally though, a real life spy drama plays out around them as the Amazons’ uncle, who happens to be a secret agent, is being hunted by two shadowy figures and thus further larks ensue. Weirdly, there’s not much difference as played here.

The whole film comes across as rather flat. A tendency towards naturalism means that the performances of the children feel a touch underpowered and the stakes never feel real, whether fighting imaginary enemies or real ones. This low-key approach extends to the adults in the room – Rafe Spall and Andrew Scott as the key tusslers – making this much less of an adventure than it should be.

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