Swallows and Amazons full movie review - Arthur Ransome laudably brought to film
It is hard to say which is the better 'Swallows and Amazons' film between this and the 1974 film. Neither are without their flaws, both are in fact pretty problematic, but both have great charm and there are a number of strengths with both.
As an adaptation, it is understandable as to why some may like the 1974 film more. While lacking Ransome's evocative way of writing, which gave it a blandness, there is more of a gentle and nostalgic feel in that film than here, which is very loyal in spirit to Ransome's storytelling. Plus the production values and the music are wonderful, the main theme in the music being the most memorable element of the whole film and a pretty unforgettable theme in its own right. This said, the film did drag in places, due to some uneventful narrative, and had a miscast Roger (too gormless) and Nancy (too old and too posh), as well as Ronald Fraser overacting pretty badly.
This said, despite having its fair shares of alterations and feeling at times on the muddled side, it is easy to see why more modern audiences will like this more. The characters are more interesting in the source material certainly, and there are additions and omissions or things that are there but could have been done better. Generally, 'Swallows and Amazons' (2016) does a laudable job making a great story suitable for film and even more so maintaining the gentle and nostalgic essence in the scenes with the children and trying to give the pacing more snap and urgency.
Of course, not everything in 'Swallows and Amazons' is entirely smooth sailing. The spy subplot has been criticised by some here and for reasons that are understandable, and an opinion shared by me. Tonally, with the action being significantly intensified, it clashed too much with the rest of the story, there was too much of it and it made some of the story feel muddled. The script does feel awkward and repetitive too often, and it was sad that Susan's character is just so bland and with not much personality due to her being very underwritten.
'Swallows and Amazons' however is a treat to watch visually, being beautifully shot with even more splendid scenery. The music score soars thrillingly yet with also gentle playfulness, the element feeling and sounding the most cinematic. This said, while it is an excellent score nothing is quite as unforgettable as the main theme of the 1974 film.
Where 'Swallows and Amazons' scores with much more success in the storytelling is in the scenes with the children, which do feel natural in chemistry and are gentle without being overly-genteel or mawkish and quaintly nostalgic. That was a huge part of the charm with the source material and previous film version, so it was a joy for that essence to translate here also and so strongly. The direction does more than capably.
Regarding the acting, it was good, although Orla Hill isn't able to do anything with severely wanting material as Susan. Bobby McCulloch and Seren Hawkes prove to be much better casting as Roger and Nancy than in the 1974 film, Roger is not an annoying character this time and Hawkes is more age-appropriate and doesn't look as out of place in the setting. Rafe Spall's Uncle Jim is much more subtle than before, while of the children delightful Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen is particularly strong. Kelly MacDonald is a charming mother figure, while Andrew Scott shows that he excels at playing villains and Jessica Stevenson and Harry Enfield portray the Jacksons well (was surprised at how well Enfield fitted).
Overall, 'Swallows and Amazons' is laudably brought to film in a problematic but worthwhile adaptation, that is best enjoyed as a standalone. 7/10 Bethany Cox