Thursday, September 08, 2016

Swallows and Amazons

About this time last year, we stayed at a cottage near Ambleside.  On the bookshelf was a copy of Arthur Ransome's "Secret Water", a later title in the "Swallows and Amazons" sequence, but which got me reading all the others, cycling out to the Shotley peninsula, reading Jennifer Jones's homage and generally following a trail.

This year a film has been released, so of course we had to see it. It's rare, these days to see a film aimed at children without animation or obvious CGI, so that was the first oddity.  Press coverage seems to have been obsessed by the change of name, from Titty to Tatty.  Given that the actress playing the part was a very sweet little girl, and not an adolescent, this name change was hugely irrelevant and as nothing to all the other changes, which were legion.

Maybe we do now suspect that Ransome himself may have done more than research folk tales and escape his failed marriage in revolutionary Russia, but was it really necessary to start the film with a direct rip-off from John Buchan?  Every key moment in the story was then hi-jacked by this spy-story, not just using it to add motivation to the burglary of the houseboat.

But then, the costumes.  They may have used vintage fair isle pullovers or had them custom knit for the boys.  But did the girls really need to wear bits of old tray-cloths made up into blouses and dresses?  The scale of the embroidery patterns cannot have been intended for children's clothes.

So, having bothered to establish "period" in this way, why bodge it with the updating of attitudes?  The Swallows all form a crew for their boat in which naval discipline is established by rank, and they all obey the captain with very little demur. But not in this film, where they argue and question his decisions.  The eating of "pemmican" (corned beef) in the book is all part of their extended role-play as explorers; Ransome goes into lots of detail about how they cook it in various ways or eat it straight if time is short.  In the film, they are shown losing a picnic hamper of more interesting food and turning to corned beef as a last resort.  The film makers appear never to have been camping for days on end, or indeed, hungry after a hike.

As for the Amazons, it is hard to say which decade these two girls belong in, but it certainly isn't the late Twenties.  The supremely over-confident Nancy of the book has been transformed into a troubled teen, searching for a father figure.

We did marvel at how Derwentwater, clearly identifiable from a view of Catbells in the background, could appear so deserted.  Why are there no other boats on the lake at all?  And how did they manage this?


Mary Lou said...

I have never read any of those books- perhaps a perfect end to summer. I do love children's books.

knitski said...

I am not up on these books either but I always enjoy a great kids story!