July 12, 2024

Swallows and Amazons – celebrating the delights of Cumbria’s Lake District

Swallows and Amazons captures the essence of a beautiful British summer, in this new film adaptation of the popular children’s classic, celebrating the delights of the great outdoors, and set against the picturesque backdrop of Cumbria’s Lake District.

England’s green and pleasant land looks at its loveliest as director Philippa Lowthorpe makes the most of the lush landscapes of the Lakes, the original setting for the book by Arthur Ransome. Derwentwater offers some spectacular views, while Coniston Water was chosen as the location for the island where the Walker children set up camp during their summer break and have fun mucking about in their boat, the Swallow.

Neighbouring West Yorkshire also features (the film is partly funded by Screen Yorkshire.) Look out for the quaint cobbled streets of Heptonstall, and Plumpton Rocks near Harrogate, a landscaped garden full of weird and wonderful rock formations, which are ideal for climbing, look-out points and hideouts. Keighley and Worth Valley Railway was used for a scene showing the Walker family boarding a steam train.

Sailing and camping play a large part in a world of make-believe where pirates lurk around the corner, boats are captured and prisoners are made to walk the plank. Careful attention is paid to period detail, with a few minor alterations to suit contemporary tastes, such as changing one character’s name from Titty to Tatty.

The screenplay by Andrea Gibb remains true to the spirit of the original stories, while adding an extra dimension in the form of a storyline centred around a family friend called Uncle Jim, who is revealed to be a spy. This intriguing plot twist was inspired by Ransome’s own eventful life, and his diplomatic activities during his time in Russia, when he met his wife-to-be, Evegenia.

After returning to Britain in 1924, Ransome wrote for the Guardian for a while, then went to live in a cottage in the Lake District, and Swallows and Amazons, the first book in the series, was published in 1930.

The stories highlight the importance of playfulness in our lives – the sense of fun, vivid imagination, and taste for adventure which underpin our youth, as yet unfettered by grown-up concerns, but should not be entirely forgotten in adulthood, if we are to nurture the inner child.

Fans of the book are likely to welcome the film as a fitting tribute and a fond reminder of a bygone golden age, although the odd cynic may feel that the era is viewed through a rose-tinted lens. Either way, the enduring appeal of the Lakes shines through. After seeing this film, perhaps some youngsters might be persuaded to rediscover the fun of clambering on rocks, picnicking in meadows or paddling in streams.

By Angela Lord

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