It’s the ideal time for the rerelease of Bafta-nominated director Claude Whatham’s Swallows and Amazons (1974) – the cinematic retelling of Arthur Ransome’s classic children’s adventure story. Not only is the film celebrating its 40th anniversary, but it’s also the perfect celebration of those long summer holidays which seemingly last forever when you’re young, and are remembered with nostalgia the older we get. The four Walker children (Stephen Grendon, Suzanna Hamilton, Sophie Neville and Simon West) go with their mother (Virginia McKenna) to spend their summer holidays in the Lake District. The adventures they have there make for a story as memorable as it is thrilling.
Even if you have never read any of Ransome’s idyllic visions of rural childhood, it is not hard to see after watching the film why his books and this screen adaptation hold a special place in the hearts of so many. Here is a time which now only exists in the imaginative work of Ransome and similar writers like Enid Blyton with her hugely popular Famous Five adventures. The real magic of Ransome’s books – captured wonderfully in Whatham’s film – is the carefree attitude which pervaded life in the years between the first and second world wars when the stories were set. Here was an era when parents could let their children take off alone in a boat for days at a time, and camp on a deserted island, making their own amusement in a time before handheld video game systems, smart phones and expensive tablets.
Watching the film may provoke endless ideas in children for ways to spend their school holidays, if their parent’s will only give them the freedom to be carefree and young. It’s StudioCanal’s host of extras however which will, as usual, capture the interest of any adult watching. As well as a fascinating feature taking the viewer on a guided tour of the real locations used in the film, it’s the interviews with McKenna, Neville and Hamilton which give a real insight into the filmmaking process, with magical memories of what it was like to be involved with the production. McKenna’s contribution – with her wistful-like reminiscences for a time (as depicted in the story) before today’s overprotective and safety obsessed society – makes for a delightfully moving addition to the overall disc. Modern kids may watch this blast from the past with bemusement. After revisiting Swallows and Amazons, however, one can’t help but feel that with society’s so-called ‘advancement’ in the intervening years, the current younger generation are missing out on an infinitely richer childhood.