Swallows and Amazons (3 stars)

Swallows and Amazons

Arthur Ransome's classic 1930 novel remains a relevant, entertaining source for timeless childhood adventure

Do children still read Arthur Ransome these days? Whether they do or not, parents bent on bringing their children up nicely will probably feel they ought to take the offspring to a very attractive and charmingly nostalgic trip down memory lane, when the British middle classes removed to the country for the long summer holidays. Boys wore shorts and girls were in charge of the picnic hampers, and the children ran riot messing about in sailboats, camping out and playing pirates without too many mishaps but lots of adventurous larks. And cake.

To the plot of Ransome's 1930 novel — in which four plucky Walker siblings (the Swallows) vie with fierce local gels Nancy and Peggy (the aptly named Amazons) for possession of an island in the Lake District — actress turned screenwriter Andrea Gibb has cleverly woven in a Hitchcockian espionage storyline in which the Walker children's houseboat-dwelling nemesis, dubbed Captain Flint, who is the Amazons' reclusive, secretive Uncle Jim (Rafe Spall) is being tailed by sinister foreign agent types (Andrew Scott suavely villainous as Lazlov).

There are mysteriously furtive doings in the dark involving stolen rocket plans, an abduction and a desperate rescue scenario. This peps things up considerably, although the more innocent meat of the matter — near drownings, learning how to make fire and nippy sailing races between the rival kids' crews — are nicely-done, instructive fun. The numerous children are well cast (Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen is particularly delightful as ingenious Tatty Walker) and even though she doesn't have an awful lot to do as the kind and sensible Mrs Walker, Kelly Macdonald is, as always, a pleasure.

BAFTA-winning TV director Philippa Lowthorpe (Call The Midwife) has done a really lovely job with the material and the beautiful scenery (Cumbria and Yorkshire, take a bow) adds to the appeal. It could not be more English and it's as sweetly satisfying as a cream tea.

Wide release from Fri 19 Aug.

Swallows and Amazons

  • 3 stars
  • 2016
  • UK
  • 1h 37min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Philippa Lowthorpe
  • Cast: Rafe Spall, Andrew Scott, Kelly Macdonald, Jessica Hynes, Harry Enfield
  • UK release: 19 August 2016

Lake District, 1930: the plucky Walker siblings go up against fierce local gels Nancy and Peggy for possession of an island, while reclusive uncle Jim (Spall) is stalked by a sinister foreigner (Scott). Charmingly nostalgic kids' adventure, subtly modernised, with well-cast kids and Macdonald a pleasure as always. Sweetly…