A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 534 – Coot Club

Coot Club – August 16th, 2011

When I was a child my father bought me several books that I didn’t read right away but eventually picked up and fell in love with. The Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome was something my father loved when he was young, and he’d wanted to share them with me and I can see why. The stories are rollicking adventures for children, featuring kids on holiday, sailing and exploring and camping while pretending to be pirates and explorers and castaways. There’s a mild bit of danger but mostly a whole lot of imagination. The first several books are about the Swallows (the Walker family: John, Susan, Titty and Roger) and the Amazons (the Blackett family: Nancy and Peggy), so named because of the names of their respective sailboats. Eventually the Ds, Dot and Dick Callum, are introduced, and then they go off to have other adventures of their own.

Now, personally? My favorite books in the series are ones with Nancy and Peggy. They are, without a doubt, some of my favorite children’s book characters ever written. The series as a whole is really rather impressive when it comes to having girls off having rough and tumble adventures alongside the boys, especially given that they were written in the 1930s. I often recommend them to families with multiple children, boys and girls, who are a wide range of ages. They make good family reads, so long as a parent is prepared to use the dated bits and sometimes archaic terminology as teaching opportunities. In any case, I think it’s safe to say that these books are well loved in my family and I was more than thrilled to find that two of them (three actually, but we don’t have the third) were made into movies by the BBC in the 1980s. They’re out on DVD now, but I got our copies from work when we decided we simply didn’t have the space to keep a VHS collection and a DVD collection, especially since the DVDs were out-circulating the VHS tapes by a wide margin. I tossed a little more than the asking price towards the Friends of the Library and took them home with me. Having now seen them, I’m going to have to go ahead and buy the DVDs, because these are marvellous.

As I mentioned, there are stories with Nancy and Peggy Blackett and the Walkers and then the Ds and then the Ds go off on their own. This movie and its companion, The Big Six are both stories with the Ds and none of the others. I’ve never been quite as fond of Dot and Dick as I am of the others because they seem so much more pigeonholed than the rest. Dot’s the writer and Dick’s the inventor and Dot talks endlessly about how she’ll write up their adventures and Dick’s always got some gadget or other to save the day. My point is that they’re predictable in a way that the other characters aren’t. I suppose it’s to give them some sort of strength to make up for them not being sailors like the rest are. In this story, Dot and Dick are visiting a family friend, Mrs. Barrable, on the Norfolk Broads, spending a holiday living in her houseboat, the Teasel. While there they get involved in some mischief involving a number of the local children who call themselves the Coot Club because they’re all birdwatchers.

Early on in their trip, Dot and Dick meet local boy Tom Dudgeon. Tom gets himself in a bit of trouble when he asks a noisy motor cruiser to moor elsewhere so they aren’t blocking a bird nest with eggs ready to hatch. The people on the cruiser ignore him, of course, because they are horrible Hullabaloos, only interested in drinking and dancing to loud music and driving their boat too fast down the rivers and byways. Some of Tom’s friends had already asked them and been given the same nasty treatment, so Tom goes and unmoors the cruiser, setting it adrift. The rest of the movie involves various people hiding Tom, various other people searching for him and Tom and his friends worrying that he’ll be caught. Along the way we meet all of Tom’s friends, the rest of the Coot Club: There’s Port and Starboard, a pair of twins who live with their father and love to sail. No uses their real names, but one girl’s lefthanded and one’s righthanded, thus Port and Starboard. And there are the Death and Glories, a trio of boys who run a little steamboat called (what else) the Death and Glory. They’re very much ‘locals’ and their accents suggest they’re of a somewhat different class than Tom and the twins, but at least in the movie, that doesn’t really ever play into things. I can’t recall if it does in the book, but I find it interesting that there’s such a distinctive class marker included in the characters and then it’s ignored because the important bit is that they’re Tom’s friends.

Anyhow, there’s plenty of sailing and motoring and birdwatching and sneaking around. I’m not certain where precisely the movie was filmed and I’ve never been to the area in England where it’s meant to take place, but it feels authentic to me. Of course, I grew up on the coast in Massachusetts, with a beach down the street and an estuary nearby. Mazes of waterways through reeds and marshes are familiar to me, so maybe there’s something there. But the movie itself simply feels as though it’s filming a bunch of kids getting into trouble while they’re on vacation from school. Maybe it helps that none of them are terribly good actors. In another movie that might be cringe-inducing, but there’s nothing in this story that makes me wince. Nothing at all. Sure, they’re not great actors at the time, but they’re not terrible and there’s something about the kids in the movie that makes me feel as though they’re real. Not playing parts, but delivering lines. I hope they had a good time making the movie. I know I would have.

If you’re thinking this all sounds so very quaint, you’re right. That’s exactly what this is. It isn’t complicated and it sure as hell isn’t fancy. It’s sweet and simple and exactly what I expected from a BBC adaptation of this series. The story gets wrapped up neatly at the end, with no ill coming to Tom and with the Death and Glories coming out on top for having saved the Hullabaloos and Dot and Dick get to do some sailing and be clever and write a story so hooray for that! I can’t believe I never got around to watching these before now and I’m going to have to make them a tradition. And buy copies for my father. I’m absolutely certain he’ll love them.

August 16, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Coot Club

August 16, 2011

Coot Club

We got this movie and its sequel used from the Library where Amanda works because they were getting rid of the remainder of their VHS collection since so few families these days have VCRs to play tapes and they were taking up more room in the library than could be justified. Amanda is an enormous fan of Arthur Ransome and the Swallows and Amazons series that this movie comes from. I’ll let her go into more detail about the appeal of the books even with modern day children and how often she recommends them to families in her library. Indeed I have to admit that I only ever read the first of the eleven books in the series (this movie is based on the fifth) but I completely understand the charm of these tales of British children having adventures while on holiday.

What’s so wonderful about these stories for children I think is that they’re about kids off on their own being independent and taking care of themselves. There is very little adult supervision while these groups are out sailing, spending the night in boats, getting into jams, pretending to be pirates and generally having a wonderful time. At the start of the first book this hands-off approach to parenting is explained in a scene where the father of one of the families, who is off with the merchant marines, sends a telegram to the mother giving permission for them to be on the lake alone. “Better drowned than duffers,” he says, “If not duffers – won’t drown.” What child wouldn’t want to be allowed to have adventures on their own by parents who trust them to take care of themselves?

This story involves a group altogether different from those I remember from the first book in the series, but the hijinks are largely the same. It’s summer holidays and Dick and Dot Callum have traveled out to the broads to stay on the little sailing yacht The Teasel with a friend of the family, Mrs. Barrable. There they meet several of the local children who have formed a birdwatching and preservation society calling themselves the Coot Club. There’s Tom Dudgeon, the eldest, the twin Farland girls who go by “Port” and “Starboard,” and three boys who apparently live on their own little boat the Death and Glory: Pete, Joe and Bill.

Things go somewhat awry for this group when they run afoul of the obnoxious, loud and inconsiderate crew of a rental ship who have come out from the city to drink and party. These awful “Hullabaloos” moor their yacht right beside a nest that the coot club have been watching, driving off the mother bird and threatening the eggs. Even when politely asked to move they refuse, leaving the Coot Club with little alternative. Tom unties the boat and sets it adrift on the river, nearly getting caught in the process, and the Hullabaloos swear vengeance. Even as Tom teaches the Callums how to sail and introduces them to the other children on the river the Hullabaloos start to hound him, chasing him upriver and down and doing everything in their power to spoil Dick and Dot’s vacation.

The untouched British countryside during a summer in the nineteen thirties seems like an absolutely idyllic place to vacation, Hullabaloos notwithstanding. Everybody knows everybody else. The local constable knows everybody by name and pays the Death and Glory boys to weed his garden. At one point when Tom and the Callums sail off without them the Farland twins catch up by hitching rides with a series of river going folk and nobody even bats an eye at the thought of two ten year old girls traveling alone on the river.

I have to say I love this adaptation. The film perfectly captures that mood of adventure and the beauty of the countryside. The young actors playing the children genuinely seem to be having a grand time. There are long sequences which are nothing but peaceful sailing, the pleasant airy soundtrack by Paul Lewis, and shots of the birds along the river that the Coot Club so admire. Watching this, on a sweltering summer night after a long day at the bank, felt like a little vacation of its own. I could easily see this movie becoming standard summer viewing for me and Amanda like Ollie Hopnoodle’s Haven of Bliss. It’s like a holiday just to watch it – it helps me to escape from the daily grind and imagine myself on an adventure with hardly a care in the world. What a wonderful feeling.

August 16, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment