The story of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ occupies a small place in my heart. Every night, I used to read a little bit of a book to my kids when they were tucked up in bed.
And one of these books was ‘Swallows and Amazons’ by Arthur Ransome. I thought it might be a nice read and so we launched into it. The book grabbed me as much as it grabbed my kids.
Here, you see, give or take a few elements, was my own childhood transcribed in a book. The lake, the boats, the island, the camp fire, the fish, the adventure. The little story transposed itself effortlessly into the vivid geography of my own memories and validated the adventures of my youth.
So, this afternoon, I set off to see the brand new film that’s just been released in cinemas. I’m glad to report that those places in my heart are safe and sound and, if anything, have been made just a little bit bigger.
There are additional story elements in the film, necessary to enable the transfer from page to screen in a completely engaging way, and these work admirably well. But it is the very ‘outdoors’ey, adventuring nature of the book that weaves the main magic here.
And that’s the thing with Swallows and Amazons, it is a real accessible adventure. You don’t need to be able to fly or leap tall buildings in a single bound to have an adventure. All you really need is a back garden, some conspirators, and a will to venture out.
That’s why the kids at this afternoon’s show remained enraptured. The parents might have been nervous on their behalf, for where was the million pixel animation and where was the primary-coloured super hero?
These heroes point their bow to the centre of the deep lake and, before they are done, will hold real fire in their hands. These are adventures that can be carried out from the cinema and into the real world. Children can see all that. Children know.
In my own childhood adventures, I was definitely Roger. My elder brothers kept the knives, real and metaphorical, for themselves and always stood a little in defence between me and the world.
You could see it clearly in young Bobby McCulloch’s eyes, on screen. The burning need for acknowledgement, to be a bona fide big boy. I was Roger and he was me but each of the Walker children will find a soul mate in each darkened theatre where the film plays. Tatty is so wonderful, literate and feisty and the elder children carry the pressures and responsibilities that come with their station.
This is, at the end of the day, a story for children and there must be an element of gentle threat and conspiracy and ultimately a general ‘winning of the day’.
But lots of adults, like myself, will come to the picture house with their furtive popcorn and they, too, will find what they seek. A sense of the outdoor childhood that we all remember a little better than it actually was. A time of freedom and adventure. A sense of home.
I would highly recommend watch Swallows and Amazons free online. If you know the book and have some regard for it, or if you just want your children to see an adventure of the kind they could then go out and create for themselves.
Source: Ken Armstrong – imdb