Ah the cosy England of steam trains, bread and butter, and long summer holidays with picnic hampers. Ah, the bucolic idyll before it was overrun with immigrants and fancy coffee. Ah, Brexit.
This new film*** adaptation is of Arthur Ransome’s book, a tome which is generally held as “beloved” by many – not by me, I must add. I’ve always hated it, based on abortive attempt to read it once at school. The tales of tacking and rigging, putting up tents, camping in the woods, none of that appealed in the slightest. My people are not seafarers. Never have been – even the Red Sea had to part for them to cross, so the prospect of ropes, knots and sails could not have struck less of a chord. I’m just a Mediterranean sort, rather than someone who wants to run up sodden hills in the Lake District.
And this film trades heavily on that good old BBC, Sunday afternoon, English country charm. Gladdening as it is to see something that might be labelled an actual family movie after all the precision-tooled cartoons that now fill that cinematic void, I couldn’t help feel the ghosts of the Childrens’ Film Foundation here.
I’m being harsh, of course. The kids all perform nicely (young British actors are so posh these days that it’s no problem conjuring up the tones of the 1930s) and Harry Enfield and Jessica Hynes provide comic fun as the farmers hosting them for the summer, all gruff British stereotypes about hen-pecked husband with rolling eyes and fussy farmer’s wife, shooing chickens and threatening with rolling pin.
Kelly MacDonald doesn’t have much to do as the kids’ mother save for smiling, tutting and finger wagging.
The adult intrigue is provided by Rafe Spall and Andrew Scott, who start with a Hitchcockian bit of chase business on a train and continue their pursuit on the water with a sub-plot about Russian spies and plans for an atomic bomb. It’s all rather vague, presented from a childs’ eye view, I suppose, but does feel a touch underpowered and a bit Famous Five.
Of course the movie’s heart is with the pesky kids, whose imaginations are fired by playing pirates with the rival Amazons gang and the idea of spending a night on their own island. Director Phillipa Lowthorpe keeps it all buoyant enough and goes for lashings of charm to sail on through to the end of summer.