“I feel I’ve got to mention this because we don’t often get the chance,” trembles the traffic reporter on Radio Cumbria, “but the train from Carlisle to Newcastle is early. Four minutes early!” The 12 July breakfast show highlights also include news of homes “powered by cheese” (generating biogas from Cumbrian creamery residues) and yet another shout-out to listeners who might remember the making of the 1974 film of Swallows and Amazons – in advance of the Keswick premiere of a new adaptation of the story, about children fancying themselves buccaneers on the high seas (ie, Coniston Water) and who view adults as merely actors in a made-up world, creatures to be approached with caution and frowning respect, as one might a local chieftain on a South Sea island.
The station’s appeal for tales of the 1974 filming has been going on successfully for a while. They’ve even heard from the granddaughter of the owner of Captain Flint’s parrot. And on Radio Cumbria’s live feed last week, mention was made – as though it were breaking news – of an earlier TV adaptation that Arthur Ransome himself thought a “ghastly mess” . . . Though apparently, at the time, he was living an exhaustingly spartan existence overlooking the Rusland Valley with “his wife, Evgenia, the former secretary to Leon Trotsky” (the ultimate caveat). No doubt all this will run and run, the Lake District being such a strong part of our national understanding of the ideal beauty of our country. Ransome’s book was suffused with a nostalgia for the Lakes even at the moment it was published.
I’ve always thought that the most memorable thing about the movie was the slight fuzziness of the actual Seventies film stock – especially when the boats on the water are shot at a distance. That dreamy indistinctness . . . it’s not just touching, it’s profound. It looks like memory. It truly looks like the feeling of journeying back in thought. How many films can claim that? Little wonder Radio Cumbria is so enjoying its appeal. “Though nothing can bring back the hour/Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;” Wordsworth wrote, “We will grieve not, rather find/Strength in what remains behind”.
This article appears in the 20 Jul 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt