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 | , , , , ,

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