Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Film review: Swallows and Amazons (2016)

So after the previous post on the difficulty in filming S&A, what to make of the most recent attempt?

As is well known, the team involved decided to spice it up by adding a spy thriller angle involving Captain Flint aka Uncle Jim being chased by dastardly Russians.

To be honest it didn't really work for me: there were too many aspects which felt wrong.

The Russians threatened with real guns, making the imaginative land of explorers and pirates seem like empty fantasy, yet those are the heart of the book. John (2016) was too old and a bit surly and less able to sail than Optimist champion John (1974) and not at all like the 12-13 yo in the book.

2016 Nancy's accent seemed an attempt to make one of the characters not middle class, but an analysis of the Blacketts (to come) makes it clear that they clearly weren't working class. Nancy (1974) was much closer to my mental image and the play caught a truth about the Amazons as having "only the clouds and a four bedroom house for shelter".

And those man overboard rescue attempts dead downwind - surely John would know better than that!

And yes, I get the logic that Jim Turner = Ransome who was mixed up with Lenin & co. But surely he wasn't that rude?

There were some the ok parts. Roger (2016) was still Roger, Jessica Hynes and Harry Enfield as Mrs and Mr Jackson were fun. Russian spy Andrew Scott smouldered like his Moriarty in Sherlock. The Lake District looked lovely.

Is it enough to capture the youf market? Well, at the showing I saw there were only 3 other people in the cinema and at least 2 of those were adults, so maybe not.

In this case I'd say better as a book than as a film, but they should get at least some credit for raising Ransome's profile and showing kids having fun in boats.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The difficulty of filming Swallows and Amazons

Recently I saw the new film of Swallows and Amazons, but before a review a few comments about the difficulty of the task.

Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons must be a hard book to convert into a film - or at least hard in 2016, the era of Harry Potter and, god-help-us-all, the endless re-hashed superheros and battling robots.

Books are often defined by the promise from the earliest chapters - i.e. how is the book framed for the reader, what expectations can they have for the story to come?

An excellent example of this is Chapter 1 of Book 1 of the Harry Potter series in which we learn that our hero has a mortal enemy who is the evil wizard that killed his parents. So that's the peril, the difficulty to overcome and the necessary resolution all made clear - plus major characters like Dumbledore, McGonagall, Hagrid and the Dursleys all introduced.

But in chapter 1 of Swallows and Amazons they learn they are to be allowed to camp on an island, with no sign of the primary plots of Amazons or Captain Flint which evolve later.

It comes from a different time, where more children roamed outdoors - or wished they could - and there were no apps to distract. The style is bordering on episodic, like Dicken's Pickwick Papers, where much of the story involves the characters travelling the countryside, having adventures.

So in one chapter, called prosaically "More Island Life", the Swallows go fishing and catch some but lose one to a pike (above) - and that's it.

I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing in a book, but it makes it harder to market as the current style is for the story to hit the ground running with peril from page one.

Part of this comes from the writer: he was describing scenes from his childhood and stories he told his friend's children, not sitting down with a plan for a book. That came later - and the following books are definitely better structured and plotted. There is clear peril in The Big Six or We Didn't Mean To Go To Sea.

But it gives film producers a headache: do they:

  • Accept the slower pace (as per the 1974 film)
  • Jump into these better plotted books (as the BBC did with the 1984 series)
  • Re-write the plot to introduce drama (as per the 2016 film)?

Back in the 1970s I read the book then saw the earlier film which still has a certain magic for me. All the characters are as I imagined them in the book(s), the sailing was pretty good and it stayed close to story as written by Arthur Ransome. And I loved the behind the scenes stories of the filming in the ebook from Sophie Neville aka the girl who was Titty.

So what of the new film...

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Fantastic Rio

Must admit I didn't really get into the BBC's dedicated stream for the sailing until the medal race week so missed a lot from week one but what I saw was fantastic. Races with skill, drama, twists and turns and plenty of story to look back on:

  • Annalise Murphy winning a medal after just missing out in 2012
  • The Australians and Croatians battling it out in the pre-start and across the course in the Lasers
  • The Australians battling it out again, this time with the Greeks for the 470s
  • The Australians and Greeks in the 470s almost falling overboard as they trapezed out as far as they could
  • The Americans getting their first sailing medal for many years in the Finns
  • .... but agonisingly crashing out of the medals in the woman's 470s by taking the wrong side of the course on the last downwind leg
  • Plus of course two golds and a silver for Team GB (yay!)

I just about managed to see Hannah Mills & Saskia Clark get their gold medal as was streaming it to my phone while on train so big gaps but saw the celebratory sail to the beach to see friends and family (ah, bless).

But the best story of all was of course that of Argentina double handed Nacra 17 helmed by 54 year old Santiago Lange who'd battled lung cancer the previous year, was across the line early and had to take a penalty in an tense race. But he and Cecilia Carranza Saroli fought back and got the gold by a single point. Bravo! It was great to see him celebrate and watch his grown up kids (also competitors) swim out to greet him. 

There should be more sailing like this on the BBC!

What was your favourite memory?

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

I want to be in Rio

I want to be back in Rio, to stand again on Sugarloaf Mountain, to go for a swim again on Ipanema Beach and of course to watch the Olympic sailing.

Two fantastic medal races already this afternoon, starting first with the women's Laser with a Brit winning the race but no medals:
Then the men's and a dramatic battle between Australia and Croatia pre-start:
... resulting in another Australian called Tom winning gold:
Fantastic stuff!

Go Team GB!

... like this (from the fab BBC feed):

Update: this Yachts and Yachting post sums up the day's races perfectly

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Brazil Job

Go Team GB's sailors!!

(via The Final Beat)

Alas, no trips to see the sailing this Olympics.... bit further to travel than Weymouth.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Messing about in a boat

It's art, of course.

To be precise this is the installation "Second Movement (2016)" by Iceland artist Ragnar Kjartansson, part of an exhibition of his work at the Barbican.

It involves "two women in quintessential Edwardian costume rowing a boat and embracing in a never-ending kiss". This performance "will take place on the Barbican Lakeside every Saturday and Sunday, between 1–4pm, weather permitting".

The title relates to the second movement of Mozart's Piano Concerto no 21, and is said to represent a gentleness to contrast against the harsh bare concrete of the Barbican. Though another reviewer saw connections with Monet and waterlilies or even Courbet.

However, it made me think about The Wind in the Willows.

From what I gather it is the most understandable and accessible part of the exhibition so I decided that was enough art for one afternoon and headed home.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Shakespeare and Sir Robin Knox-Johnston

I've posted before on theories about how Shakespeare learnt to be so accurate in his sailing language - such as at the start of The Tempest.

Could he be found in the taverns of London buying the ship's master a drink in exchange for a yarn or did he go to sea himself?

No doubt it will be an argument that will run and run and it was picked up during this fascinating Prom interval talk on the subject with a panel that included none other than Sir Robin Knox-Johnston.

Well worth a listen to if you can.