Swallows and Amazons is a 2016 adaptation of Arthur Ransome’s classic children’s novel of the same name, published in 1930.
The movie tells the story of 4 siblings aged between 7 and 16 years old, who are holidaying with their mother in England’s Lake District. They convince their mother that they’re responsible enough to sail their little boat across the lake to a nearby island for a children-only camping adventure. They soon discover that they’re sharing the island with another gang of siblings, the Blackett sisters. War is declared!
The plot thickens when the children inadvertently become embroiled in the affairs of some Russian spies. The spies are on the island to hunt down Jim Turner, the Blackett sisters’ uncle, who’s hiding on a boat. An exciting adventure full of drama and hijinks begins!
Independence and responsibility; adventure; spies; pirates; sailing; sibling rivalry; conflict
Swallows and Amazons has some violence, including a lot of verbal threats, use of weapons and some destruction of property. For example:
- Jim Turner tells the children that he will ‘find you and shoot you all’ if they tell anyone that they’ve seen him.
- John, the oldest boy, finds a gun in Jim Turner’s houseboat.
- There are several tense scenes involving a gun. This includes the central character and oldest boy ‘saving the day’ by holding the Russian spies at gunpoint. This is presented brave and courageous, and they’re congratulated. This glamorises violence and the use of weapons.
- John throws a rock, which accidently smashes the houseboat’s window. Jim Turner comes out and threatens him, saying, ‘If you go near my boat again, I won’t be quite so understanding next time’.
- Roger wishes he had a knife to fight off pirates.
- Roger is scared as he sees a man getting on to their boat. He approaches but gets out a knife and folds it open as he walks towards the boat.
- The spies discuss their plans for Jim Turner, saying they’re going to kill him and go home.
- There are scenes of shooting and conflict with bows and arrows.
- Jim Turner is held by 2 men. He has a bloody gash on his head.
- Jim Turner holds a gun to the heads of the Russian spies.
Swallows and Amazons has some mild romantic references. For example, a shopkeeper is mildly flirtatious with the men who come into the shop.
Alcohol, drugs and other substances
Swallows and Amazons shows some use of substances. For example:
- The mother smokes a cigarette on the train.
- Jim Turner drinks from a hip flask.
Nudity and sexual activity
There’s no nudity or sexual activity in Swallows and Amazons.
There’s no product placement in Swallows and Amazons.
Swallows and Amazons has some very mild name-calling in this movie, including ‘duffer’, ‘scurvy dog’ and ‘son of a sea snake’.
Ideas to discuss with your children
Swallows and Amazons is a family-friendly period adventure, set against the lush, green backdrop of the English Lake District.
Although the movie is based on a novel from 1930, it’s important to be aware that it has an espionage plot and some gun action. Although this might make it more exciting and give it a broader age appeal, it does mean that it’s not suited to younger audiences.
The main messages from Swallows and Amazons are that conflict isn’t always the best solution and that people aren’t always as they seem.
Values in Swallows and Amazons that you could reinforce with your children include:
- the importance of independence and freedom for children
- the importance of practice and perseverance when you’re learning new skills like fishing or swimming
- the joy of being in nature.
Swallows and Amazons could also give you the chance to talk with your children about real-issues like gun possession and use. For example, you could ask your child whether it’s brave to use a dangerous weapon like a gun.
You could also talk with your children about elements of the move with racist undertones. For example, the children wear costumes that look like stereotypical depictions of Indigenous or African warriors – war paint, head dresses and so on. They shoot bows and arrows and scream war cries. There’s also the example of a carnival parade, where people dress up in stereotypical Asian costumes, with face paint, conical hats and fake moustaches. This could be a chance to discuss cultural appropriation.