Swallows and Amazons Forever! BBC series
Janson Media www.janson.com
88 Semmens Road
Harrington Park, NJ 07640 USA
These two delightful DVDs are based on Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons series of books. Ransome based many of his 13 books on his childhood experiences sailing on rivers in Norfolk, England. The books by this British author were published from 1928-1947 and are still enjoyed by young people today. In the mid-1980s, the BBC produced a television "series" based on Ransome's books. These two shows have recently been made into DVDs by Janson Media. Mr. Ransome visited the areas about which he wrote before he sat down to begin writing the stories. Watching one of these videos is like visiting a small piece of history. The events in both videos take place during the 1930s. The settings, buildings, props, clothing and people are believable and you will soon find yourself transported back in time.
Coot Club is about six children, ages 10-14 or so, who are very concerned about the nests of the coot birds which are in the tall grasses along the edges of the rivers. Three of the boys make daily trips in their boat, Death and Glory, to check on the nests. One day, they find a large boat moored next to one of the nests and they ask the owner to please move the boat so that the mother can return to her eggs. The owner refuses and that's when the trouble begins. One of the children, Tom, secretly frees the boat from its mooring and the owner decides that he is going to track this boy down and teach him a lesson. The rest of the movie is based on this "cat and mouse chase." Can Tom avoid being caught? Two of his friends, Dick and Dot, visiting on holiday learn how to sail and work to help him avoid capture.
The Big Six picks up a year later. Dick and Dot return for another holiday and the four Coot Club members are now working odd jobs to earn money to pay for improvements to their boat. However, they soon find themselves suspects in a local mystery—who is untying the boats from the docks to just let them drift away? Everyone suspects the Coot Club is behind the crimes and so the boys set out, with the help of their friends, to prove them wrong.
In an age of decline in children's movies, I found these refreshing and innocent. However, some parts of the storyline seemed so incredible as almost not to be believable. For example, these children are off on their own for most of the day and possibly even the night. The boys sleep overnight on the boat; the children stay up until the early morning hours to try to take a picture of the person who is untying the boats. Two young girls are traveling by themselves using various means of transportation (all with older men) to try to reach their friends on a houseboat. Where are the parents making sure the kids are in bed at a decent hour? When the boys find themselves in trouble, where are the parents who should be trying to help them prove their innocence?
In 2006, most parents would never let their 10-year old daughters travel alone on boats and motorcycles with older men! I guess I have been tainted by the ills of our current society and so found myself unable to totally immerse myself in the culture of the 1930s. Now, this didn't take anything away from the stories, as it is obviously a personal bias that I bring into the review. I only wish the type of friendship, as well as the naiveté and innocence, portrayed in these DVDs existed today!
I watched both DVDs with my 10-year-old son, Ian, and he gave them "two thumbs up!" Of course, the appearance of steam trains in each DVD probably helped in his rating them so highly. When asked what he liked about the movies, he said that he liked the stories and that the children were trying to save the birds. The 90-minute films held his attention and I found him reacting to the events in the movie. He didn't like it when the children were accused of crimes that they didn't commit. He even said that he'd probably watch them again and that's saying a lot for a child who is mostly entertained by cartoons! The DVDs each retail for $24.95 which I find to be a price higher than I would want to pay for almost any video. However, that is cheaper than taking a family of four to a current child's movie and owning a movie means the family can watch it together again in the future.
-Product Review by Kris Price, Assistant to the Publishers, The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, LLC, June, 2006