Controversial new Swallows and Amazons film set in Coniston
- Credit: Archant
Script changes and an outbreak of political correctness can’t hide Coniston’s star quality. Mike Glover reports
Coniston will be back in the spotlight this month as the BBC releases a new film version of Swallows and Amazons with the Lake District town playing a leading role in a star-studden cast.
Millions of TV viewers will already be familiar with the popular holiday destination, which has recently been the setting for a spy thriller, The Safe House starring Salford’s Christopher Eccleston, and The A Word, a much-discussed BBC drama about autism.
Now the local economy should be ready for a further boost this month when the film of Arthur Ransome’s book is released. It’s a testament to the enduring love of this story of childhood adventure that it continues to attract film makers and TV companies. Perhaps it reminds people of the days when children were allowed to run free.
However, this latest version of the tale of four children on holiday in the Lakes hasn’t been without controversy. In particular, the decision to change the name of one of the main characters from Titty to Tatty sparked fierce debate. The name and character was based on real-life youngster Ransome met while on holiday in the Lakes.
Barbara Altounyan, niece of Mavis ‘Titty’ Altounyan said her aunt would be ‘turning in her grave’ claiming the family was furious about the change.
‘It’s just the most disgustingly pompous thing to do, to feel you can change somebody’s identity without any permission or discussion,’ she said.
Barbara, daughter of the real-life Titty’s younger brother Roger, said the name change ‘runs the risk of leaving audiences ignorant of the innocence and charm of Arthur Ransome’s children’s novel.’ She added that her aunt ‘would be so angry to be called Tatty.’
Sophie Neville, who played Titty Walker in the 1974 film adaptation of Swallows and Amazons and is the current president of the Arthur Ransome Society, said: ‘People still call me Titty to my face. Over the past 43 years there have never been any problems. I find it charming. The British public have a huge warmth and affection for Titty, which I think has been under-estimated.’
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Almost as controversial has been the casting of Andrew Scott, who gained world-wide acclaim as Moriarty in the Sherlock Holmes TV series with Benedict Cumberbatch, as a character called Lazlow, who doesn’t actually appear in the books at all.
The film makers behind this new adaptation have latched onto Ransome’s secret life as an agent for MI6 and they’ve added espionage to the plot complete with gun-totting Russian spies. The truth about Ransome’s role as a secret agent was revealed ten years ago when MI5 released its files on his activities in Moscow between 1914 and 1937.
The scriptwriters have turned the character played by Andrew Scott into an agent in pursuit of the reclusive and enigmatic Jim Turner, aka Captain Flint. One observer described the film makers as ‘taking a bit of artistic licence with the script - sexing it up.’
Happily, the plot still follows four children, played by Orla Hill, Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen, Bobby McCulloch and Dane Hughes, who dream of escape from the tedium of a summer holiday with their mother by taking to the water.
Swallows and Amazons, which launches world-wide on August 19, stars Rafe Spall as Captain Flint, Kelly McDonald is Mrs Walker with Harry Enfield and Jessica Hynes as the farmer, Mr Jackson and his wife.
As well as boosting the tourist economy, the film will also benefit the countryside around Coniston. The National Trust’s South Lakeland complex at Boon Crag was converted into home for the 40 cast, crew and technicians who filmed for a couple of weeks last summer.
The farm there was transformed into Holly Howe Farm, where the children in the story stay at the beginning of the book. Set dressing took the farm back 80 years.
National Trust land at Low Peel and High Peel on the East of Coniston Water was heavily used for the woods, caves, rocky outlets and they recreated Peel Island and the Secret Harbour, where Captain Flint’s house-boat is moored.
‘The benefits for Coniston were fantastic,’ said the National Trust’s Rona Webster. ‘All the cast and crew were staying locally, and lots of local businesses were involved. Plus the revenue the National Trust made from the film can be ploughed back into caring for the land around Coniston, enabling us to keep it as it is for future generations.’
The Swallows and Amazons effect is set to continue well into next year when there are big plans by the Arthur Ransome Society for the 50th anniversary of his death.