Henry De Vere Stacpoole’s 1908 romantic novel about two young children shipwrecked on a deserted island was brought to life with stunning cinematography, in the film adaptation of The Blue Lagoon. Released in 1980, and starring Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins, it was (perhaps surprisingly) the third film adaptation of the book (the first two occurring in 1923 and 1949). A an intriguing tale of young love, free from society’s constraints, The Blue Lagoon, despite some controversy, proved a success at the box office and still fondly remembered.
A Victorian-era sailing vessel is traveling the South Pacific, and its passengers include Arthur Lestrange, his young son Richard and an orphaned girl of the same age, Emmeline. When a disastrous fire breaks out, flames consume the boat and the kids barely escape with the ship’s burly cook Paddy Button on a lifeboat. Adrift in open waters, the trio reaches a tropical island and sets up shelter. In the years that follow, Paddy takes on his new role as parent, instilling values upon the children and teaching them to survive.
Unfortunately, Paddy does enjoy getting liquored up on occasion, and one day, after a significant binge, the kids wake to find that Paddy has consumed his final drink. Emmeline is understandably eager to change surroundings and convinces Richard to find another camp location. They set sail on a small rowboat and settle on another beach, building shelter and growing accustomed to their new home. Over time, the two begin to mature physically into teenagers and the hormones kick in alongside a strange new process that neither truly understands, puberty.
Although the first order of business at the new camp was building a signal fire (in the event a passing ship ever came close enough to spot it), the teens begin to differ in opinion over whether it should be used – leading to the first conflict they have ever really encountered. When a ship does come near one day, Richard is too far away to light the fire and Emmeline whose proximity is closer, refrains, deciding that she rather likes the carefree existence they have found.
Later, when an accident threatens Emmeline’s life, the couple begins to realize how deep their affection for each other runs. As one might predict, they consummate their relationship, in the process making Emmeline a soon-to-be-mommy. Of course, neither has had any training whatsoever to handle these adult responsibilities, but nature takes its course, leading to the birth of a baby boy who they name Paddy in honor of their fallen friend.
As the child grows into a toddler, the new family realizes how much they love their life on this remote island, and when a ship comes around, this time with Richard’s father aboard, still frantically searching for his kids all these years, both teens decline to light the signal fire … although they will soon wish they had.
Young audiences loved The Blue Lagoon, thanks in no small part to the visual appeal of the two stars. Some parents, however, were a little less enamored by the amount of nudity in the film. It still didn’t hurt the film at the box office, which boasted stunningly beautiful scenery, a lush and moving orchestral score, and a haunting exploration of human behavior in the midst of total isolation. Eleven years later, a sequel was released (without any of the original cast). Roundly panned by critics, it failed to capture the beauty of the original, which still holds up today, touching just about everyone who sees it.
If you have any memories of The Blue Lagoon you would like to share, we welcome them in our comments section.