Australian Council on Children and the Media

Swallows and Amazons

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Short takes

Not suitable under 8; parental guidance to 10 (violence, scary scenes, themes)

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Swallows and Amazons
  • a review of Swallows and Amazons completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 24 July 2020.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 5 Not suitable due to violence and scary scenes.
Children aged 5–8 Not suitable due to violence, scary scenes and glamorisation of weapons.
Children aged 8–10 Ok for this age group but parental guidance is recommended due to glamorisation of weapons, violence and themes of espionage.
Children over the age of 10 Ok for this age group.

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines.

Name of movie: Swallows and Amazons
Classification: PG
Consumer advice lines: Mild Themes and Violence.
Length 97 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

Swallows and Amazons is a 2016 film adaptation of Arthur Ransome’s classic children’s novel of the same name, first published in 1930. It tells the story of four siblings (aged approximately 7 to 16 years old) who are holidaying with their mother in the Lake District in England. They convince their mother that they are mature and responsible enough to take their little sailing boat out onto the lake and to a nearby island for a kids-only camping adventure. They soon discover that they are not alone on the island and there is another gang of siblings, the Blackett sisters. War is declared! The plot thickens when the children inadvertently become embroiled in the affairs of some Russian spies who have come to the island to hunt down Jim Turner, the Blackett sister’s uncle, who is hiding out on a boat. An exciting adventure full of drama and hijinks begins!

Themesinfo

Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

Independence and Responsibility; Adventure; Spies; Pirates; Sailing; Sibling rivalry; Conflict.

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

There is some violence in this movie including a fair amount of verbal threats, use of weapons and some destruction of property. Examples include:

  • Jim Turner tells the children that he will “find you and shoot you all” if they tell anyone that they have seen him.
  • John finds a gun in Jim Turner’s houseboat.
  • There are several tense scenes involving a gun. This includes the central character and oldest boy ‘saving the day’ by holding the Russian spies up at gunpoint. This is depicted as a brave and courageous act and he is congratulated. This glamorises the violence and use of firearms.
  • John, the oldest boy throws a rock which accidently smashes the house boat’s window. Jim Turner comes out and threatens him, saying, “If you go near my boat again I won’t be quite so understanding next time”.
  • Roger wishes he has a knife to fight off pirates.
  • Roger is scared as he sees a man getting on to their boat, he approaches but gets out a knife and folds it open as he walks towards the boat.
  • The spies discuss their plans for Jim Turner, saying they are going to kill him and go home.
  • There are scenes of shooting and conflict with bows and arrows.
  • Jim Turner is being held by two men and he has a bloody gash on his head.
  • Jim Turner holds a gun to the heads of the Russian men.

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children under the age of five, including the following:

  • A man comes into the children’s train carriage uninvited. He is trying to hide from two other men who are searching the train for him. He grabs the baby and holds her on his lap pretending to be the children’s father. The children are shocked and scared. When he leaves the carriage he threatens them, “Not a word of this to anyone or I will find you and I will shoot you all”. He tells them that he is a pirate.
  • Roger bursts into tears when he hears that he won’t be allowed to go on the camping adventure because he’s too young. This passes very quickly.
  • There are a couple of hairy scenes on the lake. In the first, one of the girls is hit on the head by the boom as it comes across in the wind, there is tense music and the food basket sinks into the lake. In the second scene, Roger falls into the lake and they struggle to find him, but after a moment he does pop up struggling.
  • Roger comes across a pirate sign in the woods with a warning and lots of bones hung and scattered around.
  • The children gut a fish with a blunt knife, it’s very messy and bloody.
  • John and Tatty come across a camp deep in the woods with two scary men and a camp with lots of dead animals strung up. The men turn out to be friendly and helpful but at the beginning the children are scared.
  • Tatty stays behind at the camp one night and gets scared all alone and she screams loudly when a bird screeches in the forest.
  • The children enter a tunnel and see a boat parked up with two dark, ghost-like figures in it – they approach with trepidation and there is spooky music – it turns out to be a hoax.
  • When the two spies are trying to escape in a plane with Jim Turner the children try to stop the plane flying off, the plane looks like it is going to crash into the lake and capsize the boat.
  • John shouts loudly and in anger to his younger brother: “You are useless, a duffer, I knew we shouldn’t have brought you! I hope you drown”. Roger is devastated.

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes and scary visual images, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged five to eight, including the following:

  • Children in this age group may still find some of the above-mentioned violent and scary scenes disturbing.

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

  • Nothing further of concern.

Product placement

  • None noted.

Sexual references

There are some mild romantic references in this movie, including:

  • The shopkeeper on the Island is mildly flirtatious with the men who come into the store.

Nudity and sexual activity

  • None noted.

Use of substances

There is some use of substances in this movie, including:

  • The mother smokes a cigarette on the train.
  • Jim Turner drinks from a hip flask.

Coarse language

There is some very mild name calling in this movie, including:

  • Duffer
  • Scurvy Dog
  • Son of a Sea Snake.

In a nutshell

Swallows and Amazons is a family friendly period action/adventure film, set against the lush green backdrop of the English Lake District and is likely to appeal to most ages. Although it is based on the 1930s novel, parents should be aware that it has been pumped up with an espionage plot and some gun action, presumably to make it more exciting. This does mean that it is not as suited to younger audiences, particularly without parental guidance.

The main messages from this movie are that conflict is not always the best solution and that people are not always as they seem.

Values in this movie that parents may wish to reinforce with their children include:

  • The importance of giving children their own independence and freedom.
  • Perseverance in learning skills to survive (fishing, swimming, hunting etc).
  • The joy of being in Nature.

This movie could also give parents the opportunity to discuss with their children attitudes and behaviours, and their real-life consequences, such as:

  • Why are guns dangerous and is it brave to use a gun?
  • Parents may wish to discuss with their children elements of the film which have racist undertones – although these are not as explicit as in the original 1930s novels, they are still depicted (much more subtly) in the film. For example, the children adopt costumes for war on the island that look like traditional stereotypical depictions of Indigenous or African warriors (war paint, head dresses etc), shooting with bows and arrows and screaming war cries. Another example is in the carnival parade, people are in fancy dress and three people are dressed in stereotypical costumes of Japanese or Chinese people, with face paint, conical hats and a fake long moustache. Would this be appropriate now? This could be a chance to discuss the topic of cultural appropriation.

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