Questions I’m asked at cinema screenings of Swallows & Amazons (1974)

Over the next few days I am going to be giving Q&A sessions at cinemas screening StudioCanal’s newly restored version of Richard Pilbrow’s movie ‘Swallows & Amazons’ (U) to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the film’s release in 1974.

Captain Flint walks the plank
Ronald Fraser on the cover of the VHS

Sten Grendon, Simon West, Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville as the Swallows making Ronald Fraser walk the plank. Where are the Amazons?

If you can come, please do bring a question. I am always very interested in those asked by the children. They can be quite difficult to answer:

‘What did it feel like to be alone on the island?’

Titty alone on Wildcat IslandTitty leaving her tent on Wild Cat Island

‘Where you really able to keep the parrot?’

swa_bw_neg_ 021 Kit Seymour with Sophie Neville  and Polly in the Houseboat

‘How long did it take to film?’ is another question I am often asked. The answer is quite complicated.

Then I ask,  ‘Would you like to know about the mistake I made?’

swa_bw_neg_ 043The crew of the Swallow leaving Holly Howe 

I started singing, ‘Adieu and Farewell’, when the sea shanty Spanish Ladies is always sung: ‘Farewell and Adieu…

Farewell and adieu to you fair Spanish ladies,
Farewell and adieu to you, ladies of Spain;
For we’re under orders
For to sail to old England,
And we may ne’er see you fair ladies again.
We’ll rant and we’ll roar, like true British sailors,
We’ll range and we’ll roam all on the salt seas;
Until we strike soundings
In the Channel of old England,
From Ushant to Scilly ’tis thirty-five leagues.

swa_bw_neg_ 042Virginia McKenna watches the Swallows sail from the jetty at Bank Ground Farm on Coniston Water. Can you spot the safety officer – a frogman just visible right of shot?

I noticed that one inconsistency made by the design team was that the swallow flew down our flag whereas it always flies up Swallow’s burgee in Arthur Ransome book illustrations. I count it as a subtle differentiation that I reproduce whenever I draw the crossed flags myself.

Swallows & Amazons flags for book

When I was writing ‘The Making of Swallows & Amazons’ I noticed that, while the title of the book is ‘Swallows and Amazons’, the graphic designer working on the film always used an ampersand, making it SWALLOWS & AMAZONS in the 1974 film.

There is another odd thing right at the end of the film, as the credits roll. See if you can spot what it is.

There are often screenings at cinemas in Cumbria:

Keswick Reminder Film Billing

Royalty Cinema Bowness-on-Windermere, the Roxy Cinema Ulverston and the Alhambra in Keswick where we held a Q&A

Sophie Neville's book promotion in Keswick

Zeffirellis Ambleside  with Sophie Neville Q&A)

Sophie Neville signing books in Ambleside

Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal with a Q&A by Sophie Neville attracted an audience of 250 people 

Sophie Neville Q&A in Cumbria

Brewery Arts Centre cinema interior

All black and white photographs on this page are copyright StudioCanal. To see more stills and merchandise available please click here.

Most of the questions are answered in ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’ now published by The Lutterworth Press, available as a paperback, ebook and audiobook. You can listen to a sample here.


Author: Sophie Neville

Writer and charity fundraiser

11 thoughts on “Questions I’m asked at cinema screenings of Swallows & Amazons (1974)”

  1. “Adieu and farewell” sounds better to me, so I wouldn´t call it a mistake. What you actually did was improve a song in the traditional way, because songs of this kind are supposed to keep evolving (until they´re dead).

    1. It does sound better doesn’t it! I regret that we didn’t adhere more closely to the book but some of the lines simply did not work in reality out on the water.

      1. I know why it bothers you (and it’s probably impossible for it not to), but the differences actually make it more interesting, and the performances feel more natural because of the removal of parroting (there’s nothing worse than a child chanting out the content of a script, and training usually makes them more and more artificial). Method acting appears to produce the most natural results, and that means the dialogue isn’t going to match up with the original text. What you really get in any film though is a true story of people making and acting in a film, and that isn’t something you should necessarily want to change. Any faults that you see in Swallows & Amazons are part of a true story, more real than the story in the book, and part of it is your story. That’s a beautiful thing to have. So don’t keep agonising over the faults you see in it which you feel responsible for, because there are no faults in the true story that the film really tells. What we see are people giving it a good go and doing extremely well. You really can’t ask for more than that.

  2. Hardly a true story. With dubbed voices, night for day shots, added sound effects, blue screen shots, added musical score, carefully chosen camera angles and use of different camera lenses, the film director can create magic. When the result is as good as Swallows & Amazons. we can enjoy the fruits of the technical wizardry and post production creativity involved.

    1. Most of what you see on the screen tells a true story of people acting out and living a story for the cameras, and it would take a lot of CGI and dubbing to eliminate that. Some day soon though it will be normal for films to be done with CGI actors which can be replaced by the viewer with the virtual actors of their choice, even giving them the option of putting themselves in the film. Indeed, it will be possible to replace actors in old films and to change the things they say and do in them. But would anyone want to do that with Swallows & Amozons to put right any faults that they think are in it? I would prefer it to be left as it is and have no wish to see any “corrected” version. The “faults” are truths and they are all part of its charm.

      1. It is good to see the restored DVD includes shots from the film of ‘Swallows & Amazons’ that are edited out of the broadcast version, such as the sequence featuring the native on the Rio jetty. The credits run in full where-as they did not in earlier DVDs, which was a swizz – and broke code of practice.

  3. I’ve just watched the film on the new Blu-ray and the picture quality is really good, a big improvement from the old DVD. I liked the special features, shame Simon and Stephen weren’t interviewed.
    I noticed Suzanna is credited as Zanna.

    1. Thanks for the feedback – I’ll pass it on to StudioCanal.

      Suzanna couldn’t be credited as Suzanna Hamilton back in 1974 as there was already a Susannah Hamilton registered with British Equity, so she opted for Zanna, which is the name she used at the time. I detail this is ‘The Making of Swallows & Amazons’.

      Sadly the boys were too busy at work to come for an interview on the day the bonus material was recorded.

  4. I wouldn’t worry too much about the song. I can’t imagine the old-time sailors got it right every time either!

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