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|Swallows and Amazons|
dir Philippa Lowthorpe
scr Andrea Gibb
prd Nick Barton, Nick O'Hagan, Joe Oppenheimer
with Kelly Macdonald, Rafe Spall, Andrew Scott, Dane Hughes, Orla Hill, Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen, Bobby McCulloch, Hannah Jayne Thorp, Seren Hawkes, Dan Skinner, Jessica Hynes, Harry Enfield, Elizabeth Berrington
release UK 19.Aug.16
16/UK BBC 1h36
Adventure on the high seas: Hughes, Hill, McCulloch and
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
Arthur Ransome's beloved 1930 novel is adapted for the big screen with plenty of visual panache, gorgeous settings and a likeable cast. So it's a shame that the screenplay wobbles as it tries to expand the story for modern audiences, and also that the direction is so choppy that the strained-for tension never materialises.
In the summer of 1935 while her seafaring husband is abroad, Mrs Walker (Macdonald) takes her five children to the Lake District. The four older kids (teens Hughes and Hill and youngsters Malleson-Allen and McCulloch) immediately decide to borrow Swallow, their hosts' (Hynes and Enfield) small sailboat, and go camping on an island in the lake. There they have an imaginative clash with neighbours (Thorp and Hawkes) dressed as pirates in their boat Amazon. Meanwhile, more sinister activities are afoot, as two Russian spies (Scott and Skinner) stalk a British double agent (Spall).
Screenwriter Gibb has tinkered considerably with Ransome's classic plot, trying to ramp up some big-screen action suspense. But director Lowthorpe never gets a grip on it, struggling to generate even a mild sense of intensity. This is mainly due to some dodgy editing, which leaves both plot points and action sequences choppy and unclear. And the young actors seem to have been given very little guidance. Thankfully, the film looks terrific, shot in picturesque locations around the Lake District and Yorkshire.
The cast is strong enough to hold the interest amid the narrative lapses. Even though they're in need of clearer directorial input, all six children are engaging, most notably the younger ones. Malleson-Allen brings some plucky energy to the film, while McCulloch adds some sympathetic emotion as a small boy desperate to measure up to his older siblings. Macdonald is terrific as their understanding but no-nonsense mum, while Spall and Scott have a lot of fun, stealing the film by stirring sneering innuendo into their unnecessary espionage subplot.
In the end, the film is enjoyable enough, even if it leaves us wishing they had taken a more straightforward approach to the novel. But the ill-conceived narrative excesses undercut the playfully adventurous tone as well as the various quietly involving coming-of-age character arcs. There's also the problem that the spy mission storyline requires a lot of dull expository dialog, when all the audience wants is more of the kids' imaginative antics. Because the first flush of independence is what this story should be about.
|R E A D E R R E V I E W S|
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© 2016 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall|
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