Changes to the original screenplay of the film ‘Swallows & Amazons’ (1974)

One of the questions asked by fans of the film Swallows & Amazons, produced by Richard Pilbrow in 1974, is: Did any of the scenes  written by David Wood ever hit the cutting-room floor? Looking back through the original screenplay I can see that the answer is: not many.

The shots of finding Swallow in the boatshed, bringing her out and raising her flag were moved forward, under the Voice Over of the Walker children reading out the letters to their father. Claude Whatham at the Boathouse with Simon West and Sophie Neville

Simon West talking to director Claude Whatham with Sophie Neville

There is a scene in the book set at Holly Howe when medical supplies are being packed for the voyage. This was shot with Virginia McKenna at Bank Ground Farm above Coniston Water, but must have slowed down the pace of the film as it was replaced by a montage of shots, which are much more exciting. Virginia McKenna and Sophie Neville

Virginia McKenna as Mother with Sophie Neville as Titty making Swallow’s flag

Making patterans on the way to the charcoal burners, was a lovely scene from the book that was recorded but never included in the film.  Captain John can been seen explaining how gypsies use them as secret markers in this black and white still from the film. It was shot on a mossy bank in oak woodland so very characteristic of the Lake District. BW The Swallows make Patterans It was at this dramatic location, high above Derwentwater that this behind-the-scenes shot of the director, Claude Whatham was taken. You can see Cat Bells in the background. Claude Whatham and his cast of Swallows

Claude Whatham talking to his cast: Sten Grendon, Simon West, Sophie Neville & Suzanna Hamilton

Mrs Ransome, who worked closely with the screenwriter agreed that the storm scene on Wild Cat Island would not to be included in the screenplay, which we all thought a great pity as children.  Such a violent gale blew in one day when we were filming on Peel Island that we would have had the right weather conditions, but you can not include everything. Jane Grendon, whose son Sten played Roger wrote to tell  me that before filming began, ‘…one of the very first things we were asked was, ‘can Sten swim?” ‘I know he could doggy paddle,’ she continued. ‘ Neville (Thompson, the online Producer) organised swimming lessons at Pitville Pool, Cheltenham which included jumping off the diving boards.  At the time I didn’t know why and I don’t think Sten is a natural in the water and the swimming lessons didn’t prove very successful.  Claude (Whatham) told me – at the end of filming I think, when he gave me a copy of he original script – these lessons were because in the original script Roger was to jump in the water after Uncle Jim walked the plank.’ Jane sent me a copy of the page in question. I had not seen it before: A page of David Wood's original screenplay: 'Swallow & Amazons' (1974) It was a page of the script we never had the time or enough fine weather to shoot. I am so glad.

Readers often ask if any scenes involving the Amazons were cut, but none were left out. Nancy and Peggy simply do not appear in the book as much as one might remember. Amazon Boathouse

Please leave any questions about the making of ‘Swallows & Amazons’ in the comments below.

You can read the full story of the making of Swallows and Amazons (1974) in one of the editions listed online here:

'The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974) by Sophie Neville'
Different editions of ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974) by Sophie Neville’

Author: Sophie Neville

Writer and charity fundraiser

8 thoughts on “Changes to the original screenplay of the film ‘Swallows & Amazons’ (1974)”

  1. Well Sophie, hello! I think Roger’s gaucheness is as charming – even – as Titty’s knowingness and literary precociousness. The film is and remains a great work of art because any artistic transformation which is working with real live coals in fact becomes a transfiguration. And the film does. Minute comparisons between the two media and including the use a third element, my transcript – and even – amazingly! – this not unsophisticated mix in the hands of my cutting edge team of three and sometimes four Georgian children of the same age – shows that both the film and the book are great, but on different terms. The film – without quite realizing it – comes close to a reworking of Shakespeare; crossed with the century’s certitudes of childhood mediated through A.A Milne and Kenneth Graham. There is not only ‘The Tempest’ here; but also ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ too… There are more strands still. The charcoal burners: they are Wordsworthian in potential; the South American aspects are there in Titty’s and Ransome’s subtext: here we have also to look to Gulliver’s Travels, Last week the ice-breaker was colouring many arcane skull and crossbones flags. The Treasure/ Coral Island and Robinson Crusoe allusions are clearer. But what is really interesting is that Whatham consciously fronted the Titty imaginative ‘dreamtime’ in the Robinson Crusoe scene which – although also present in the book – is given a great cinematic presence with the sole incursion of nouvelle vague techniques which he must have picked up from Chabrol and others (although the Alice-like swimming against an unseen ‘magnetic field’ in ‘Alice ou la Derniere Fugue’ is from 1978…) The wonderful music at this point, or perhaps just before – the almost direct quote from Villa-Lobos – presages this second, Latin, imaginative world. But there is a third one, too: and this is implicit in the scene at “Rio’. Whatham – in placing Rio circa 1929 – the date of the presumed *book* action – and the island aspect of the ‘story’ around 1965-1970 – ie more or less in sync with the dress and manners of the children in the film – introduces another beautiful Shakespearian touch in regard to the ‘unities of time place and action’ which he so gently subverts. Of course, the vintage cars and train at the start (although the train as an opening motif is something of an English cinematographic trope!) are in period with ‘Rio’. But here, the director’s *double*achievement is like a great second act to an opera (with a greatly contrasting, even quantumly different mood) – Tippett (active just then!) springs to mind; – and here, again, there is markedly different mood. – because not only do we penetrate *through* the borders of the children’s self-created imaginative world; we penetrate also out from the time-shift which being afloat – so wonderfully paralleling the children’s increasing self-assurance and personal growth – has imaginatively and psychologically engineered in them. This is why I thing we have here something at times both Bildungsroman and opera. Indeed there are a few places where Ransome gives voice to his hidden psychological stance on this point: as when he explains how John feels on returning to Holly Howe – as if following an odyssey- ; or the brief snapshot of Vicky, ‘Nurse’ and ‘Mother’ from the water. Were you saying that Ransone’s Russian wife took an interest in the filming? Excising the storm – by the way, was a good idea, I think: as the entire film has to be sunlit and serene, with just the repentance of Captain Flint – resembling that of a Mozart comic opera, say Cosi Van Tutte – as the main artistic structure. That – truly – emerged from teh red leather Morrocan slippers insufficiently appreciated. This was the Amfortas-like wound which led Ransome to his greatest artistic achievement!

  2. Having just watched the film again I was surprised at the lack of manners in the Walker children who in the film, rarely said please or thank you. When Susan asks for a frying pan, there is no please or thank you. The phrases are missing in several places where one would expect them.

    1. I agree! Susan does apologize to Roger when she accidentally burns his knee with the frying pan. It was a true accident and a totally instinctive, unscripted response the director kept in.

      1. Roger. To Framer. Hello sir!
        John: Dear Father…Mother…
        Roger: Please, Daddy. may I go too?’
        Susan: Can we borrow a frying pan?
        Mrs Jackson: Yes, certainly, love.
        Susan: I wish we lived in a houseboat all the year round…
        John: Father does…
        [Charcoal Burners scene]
        Susan: Than you very much for having us…
        Titty: (particularly polite) And thank you SO much for letting us see your lovely serpent…
        Children: Goodbye…!
        Young Billy: Goodbye…! Here! (gives Susan the basket she had forgotten…)
        Susan: Thank you! Goodbye!
        Titty: You did walk the plank most awfully well..!
        Titty: Am I really to take him?
        (strange lapses into 1920s speak by screenplay…)
        Titty (considerately) Won’t you be very lonely without him..?
        These dozen examples from the script show that there is absolutely no rudeness form the children in the David Wood script. In the BBC ‘Coot Club’ the whole ambience is disturbed, the action is unserenely fast, the language rougher, and the magic is diffused. My new project is ‘Kes’ – where of course the language is rough indeed, but hearts of gold – amid appalling psychological violence and at times worse! – are on show, to make for a second late Elizabethan Age masterpiece…! Kes of course came first! But Swallows and Amazons is – originally – the greater masterpiece…! and – Martin

  3. This – Sophie’s behind-the-scenes revelations, and serious literary/ dramatic analysis of just what makes AR’s work and dramatisations of it so enduring – is meat and drink to me. Thank-you, dear Sophie and mfmsm. The timeless island where magic happens for children who are awake to the ‘other world’ – yes, THAT is what Wild Cat Island is. More please, mfmsm (and do you have a nickname that we can pronounce? Prospero, perhaps….)

  4. I also love all these behind-the-scenes tit bits. From the few people I have known in the film industry, all screenplays go though this sort of ‘pruning’. I think it’s expected by the screenwriters and it’s the end product that counts, in this case a particularly brilliant film.

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