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Swallows and Amazons
Adapted from Arthur Ransome's beloved book, Swallows And Amazons is a charmingly old-fashioned tale of messing about on the river set in more innocent times before children became zombified slaves to their parents' tablets and smartphones. Philippa Lowthorpe's film is a valentine to the great outdoors and the wild, sprawling splendour of the British countryside, set in the mid-1930s against a picturesque backdrop of the Lake District. You can almost feel the soft breeze rolling off the hills as the plucky heroes survey the undulating, verdant landscape for the first time, staring adoringly at an island in the middle of a lake that will become the scene for their gung-ho summer escapades. If a British film is ever going to convince 21st century youngsters to stop swiping and start building dens and scavenging, this is it. Certainly, parents will be charmed by the nostalgia-steeped narrative and fond memories of the 1974 film adaptation that arrived soon after the rousing success of The Railway Children. While her husband is away at sea on a naval destroyer, Mrs Walker (Kelly Macdonald) spirits her four children - John (Dane Hughes), Susan (Orla Hill), Tatty (Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen) and Roger (Bobby McCulloch) - away for the summer break to stay with farmer Mr Jackson (Harry Enfield) and his wife (Jessica Hynes). En route, the children have a close encounter with James Turner (Rafe Spall), who is being chased on their train by a man called Lazlov (Andrew Scott). Turner escapes and the children subsequently conclude that he must be a pirate and christen him Captain Flint after one of their favourite characters in Treasure Island. Once the brood arrives at the Jacksons' farm, the children persuade their mother to allow them to sail over to an island and camp under the stars. The outward journey is fraught with sibling rivalry and eldest child John considers abandoning the expedition. "Only cowards turn back, this is our destiny John!" Tatty rebukes him. Once the children set up camp, they discover the island has already been claimed by Nancy Blackett (Seren Hawkes) and her sister Peggy (Hannah Jayne Thorp), who call themselves the Amazons. Meanwhile, Lazlo tracks down Turner to a houseboat close to the island and prepares to snare his slippery prey. Swallows And Amazons maintains a gentle pace, anchored by solid performances from the young cast. Enfield and Hynes provide comic relief, while Scott essays another boo-hiss villain from his expanding repertoire. Lake District locations look glorious, even when storm clouds gather. Screenwriter Andrea Gibb has made a few alterations to Ransome's text, most noticeably rechristening the central character of Titty Walker to avoid any schoolboy and girl sniggers. Yes, more innocent times.