The cutting room floor

Members of the Arthur Ransome Group have recently raised questions about what ‘fell onto the cutting room floor’ after we shot the movie ‘Swallows & Amazons’ in the English Lake District in 1973.

‘I have always had the feeling that the Amazon’s role in the 1974 film was very much secondary to the Swallows.’ Stephen O’Brien posted.  ‘This was probably down to much of the Amazon’s footage ending up on the cutting room floor. What do you think?’

The answer is that there were few scenes excluded from the film.

BW Virginia McKenna and Sophie Neville

Virginia McKenna as Mrs Walker with Sophie Neville as Titty

One featured Virginia McKenna and Mrs Battys clock, which can still be found at Bank Ground Farm, our location used for Holly Howe. It was shot on the second morning and I fear that our director Claude Whatham might have taken it out because my own performance was rather stilted. I had quite a bit to say, most of which was really rather bizarre:

15th May deatil of outtake

The pages of my diary written on 15th May 1973

15th May detail  page two

The only other scene from Swallows & Amazons that I know was excluded was when the Swallows lay patterans on their way to visit the charcoal burners. The location was in a beautiful spot up above Derwentwater, the dialogue was straight from Arthur Ransome’s book and our performances would have been fluent by the time we shot the sequence. BW The Swallows make Patterans

 Suzanna Hamilton, Sten Grendon, Sophie Neville and Simon West as the Swallows

I can only expect that when the movie came in over-length these scenes were cut as the action was not exciting and had no influence on the plot.

In the original script the Amazons do not really appear until page 41 – which would equate to nearly half-way into the the film. I thought that there might have been one or two shots of the Amazons sailing that were never used, because there was  a day spent filming on Derwentwater when Kit and Lesley who played Nancy and Peggy weren’t feeling very well but I’ve checked the script and nothing that they said was excluded. Not one word. Perhaps David Wood who dramatised the book could somehow have increased the Amazons’ parts. However, as Janet Means points out:

‘…in the book we find out more about what the Swallows think but only about what the Amazons do. There is little about the Amazons except when the Swallows are present too (hiding Amazon in the reeds and Nancy berating Peggy for losing Amazon when Titty’s made off with her). There’s lots about the Swallows without the Amazons.’ 

One scene in the DVD of the film actually gets cut out of the television version. The clue is that it comes just before this photo was taken in Bowness-on-Windermere for Lancashire Life kindly sent to be by Stephen Sykes of Hill Top near Haverthwaite.

Lancashire Life May 1974 - S&A - Contents photo only Sten Grendon, Simon West, Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville as the Swallows in Rio, an official still from the film published in Lancashire Life in 1974

There are a few scenes in the screenplay that were never actually shot, but that’s on a different tack. To read more, please see: The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons.

Dennis Lewiston, director of Photography on 'Swallows and Amazons'  ~photo:Richard Pilbrow

Denis Lewiston, director of Photography on ‘Swallows and Amazons’ ~ photo: Richard Pilbrow, taken on Derwentwater in Cumbria, 1973

Our sad news is that Denis Lewiston, the brilliant  Director of Photography on Swallows & Amazons (1974),  died recently. After a long and fulfilling career he will be remembered fondly and admired for the numerous films he made, seeking excellence with every sequence.

To see some of the shots Denis set up for the film of Swallows & Amazons,  please click here for the BFI site.

6 Comments

Filed under 1973, Acting, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, David Wood, Diary, Film, Film Cast, Film History, Filmaking, Lake District, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Photography, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story, Zanna Hamilton

6 responses to “The cutting room floor

  1. Jill G

    A quick reply to this great post, Sophie – much more that can be said. Janet Means is absolutely right about the book telling us ‘more about what the Swallows think but only about what the Amazons do’ – it’s a niggle that I have about all the books, and I pounce upon any indication of what the Amazons are thinking. We do get a few subtle and powerful indications in the series of Nancy’s thoughts, but we really only ever see Peggy from outside, albeit with some good authorial hints as to her state of mind. There’s loads of analysis of many works of literature about point-of-view (see all the stuff about Austen only ever reporting conversations/ actions where women are present)

    In haste!

    • Thanks for taking the time to add such a valid comment.

      It was a shame that the line, ‘For talking to natives,’ was cut as it introduced the term before I used it to complain about the natives on the steamer – for which the native Scots at the BBC might string me up today. I’m sailing close to the wind here but everyone loves the Swallows references to natives and savages for adults. It was the one word they changed in the musical of S&A when we were perplexed to find them referred to as ‘Barbarians’.

  2. roger parkinson

    Hi Sophie,                 How nice to have actually met you at Rydal Hall in March. The Ransome weekend was great fun, particularly your talk about the actual filming of Swallows and Amazons. I was wondering if in your time at the BBC you had ever come across Heather Holden-Brown, who I knew well in the 1970s. At the age of 68 I am still as enchanted by Ransome’s twelve books as I was back in the 1950s.

    Kind Regards = Roger Parkinson + 

    • How good to hear from you. I am going to have to put you in touch with Heather right away. She kindly helped me negotiate the contract with the publishers for my paperback about ‘The Making of Swallows & Amazons’, which should be out soon. I never met Heather at the BBC but we have lots of friends in common and she has a house near where I live on the south coast. Can I give her your email? She can be contacted at work or via email. Please see: http://www.hhbagency.com/contact.html

  3. Roger Wardale

    I think the camera angle of the still showing the return of John, Susan and Titty in Rio is much better than the one filmed, when you do not have to be particularly observant to notice that John is actually not very tall.

    • I always like low-angled shots and that one shows Rio nicely.

      I’ve had a lot of questions asking ‘Where is Rio?’ in reference to Swallows & Amazons, so I’ll write about that next. Do you think Ransome ever had another town in mind?

      I don’t want to repeat myself, so have been searching for photos I haven’t used before. Do send any that you would like posted. I can always link them to your books.

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