BBC hopes youth of today will thrill to Swallows and AmazonsAnd the related leading article, also in tomorrow's Times,
by Ben Hoyle, Arts Reporter
It’s as far from a toxic childhood as you are likely to get. Captain John, Able Seaman Titty and Ship’s Boy Roger are to set sail again in a big-screen adaptation of the Arthur Ransome classic Swallows and Amazons.
Inspired by the success of The Dangerous Book for Boys, the BBC is betting that camping, fishing and messing about in dinghies will seem as thrillingly exotic to modern children as any special-effects-laden superhero movie.
The producers believe that the resourceful young heroes of Swallows and Amazons and the book’s idyllic Lake District setting possess an allure that they did not have when the tale was last filmed in 1974, before childhood hobbies became as sedentary, solitary and technology-driven as they are today.
It is a hope backed by the National Theatre, where a musical of Swallows and Amazons is in the pipeline, and at the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth, where an exhibition on Ransome’s work will open later this year.
There are 12 Swallows and Amazons adventures and BBC Films is close to acquiring options on all of them. Jamie Laurenson, executive producer for BBC Films, is hoping for a cinema release next year. He said: “It’s a great story and a fantastic adventure.”
If Swallows and Amazons is to work, Mr Laurenson said, it also needs to make the natural world genuinely frightening. “For a modern audience you need to bring out that feeling of danger. It’s only implied in the action because of when it was written, but it’s about children taking on adult responsibilities. The youth of today are cosseted. We rail against couch potatoes and obesity in children but ban conker fights [see aforementioned Dangerous Book], so I think this is very timely.”
Ransome would have agreed. He was a charismatic man with a love of the outdoors. In a life packed with adventure he married Trotsky’s secretary and may have spied for the Bolsheviks before settling down in the 1920s to work as an occasional foreign correspondent and angling columnist for the Manchester Guardian. He made his breakthrough as an author with Swallows and Amazons, which was published in 1930. ...
Purists should be reassured that they will still be set in the prewar years, he added. “I think that period feel is part of their charm.”
Geraint Lewis, chairman of the Arthur Ransome Society, said that the modest nature of the stories themselves was an important element of their appeal. “Ransome was a very good writer and his deceptively simple style has endured. They have never gone completely out of fashion but there does seem to be a welling of interest in them now,” he said.
No DuffersIn other words, paddle your own canoe, and mess about in your own dinghy.
Don’t just watch Swallows and Amazons — be them
From an ancient farmhouse on a peaty fellside, into the jump-cut mayhem of X-boxes and preteen blockbusters, come John, Susan, Titty, Roger and a gaff-rigged dayboat called the Swallow. They’ll fill her up with bread and cheese and tents stitched by their mother. They’ll sail her from a Peak in Darien to an island in the “great lake in the North”. They will find a secret harbour and the perfect campsite. Nearby, still warm, there will be embers. Undeterred, the Swallow’s crew will unroll their sleeping bags and wake to the hearstop-ping sight of an arrow in the gnarled bark of the great tree at the high end of the island.
Oh, to be under surveillance by a faceless enemy armed to the gunwales and master of the timing of her attack! Yes, hers, because the Amazons will soon reveal themselves, not just to the Swallows but to a global audience of millions courtesy of BBC Films. The rights to Arthur Ransome’s books may not be in the bag but they’re being hotly pursued. A feature is planned, and possibly a franchise. Time’s wheel has alighted on the most wholesome of all parallel children’s universes as the best bet for a filmic expression of everything that Nintendo is not.
Good luck to the producers. What greater thrill can there be for any child, in any age, than to create her own world in the real world and be allowed to risk her life in it? For that is the explicit premise of Swallows and Amazons, set out in the children’s father’s legendary telegram sent from his naval ship on service in the Far East: BETTER DROWNED THAN DUFFERS IF NOT DUFFERS WONT DROWN. Tough love was never since so tough (and in any case has long since been outlawed by social services). But this was the green light that sent Roger hurtling down towards a mythic Coniston to tell his siblings their great adventure was a “go”. Let the film version spawn thousands more like it – real ones, rich with the smell of wet rope, burnt camp-fire sausages and lichen on granite. Because Tomb Raider takes some beating.