Little Emmeline (Susan Stranks) is a passenger on board a ship headed to Australia and New Zealand to stay with her aunt, but today something distracts her from her doll's tea party as there is a funeral being held on deck. Her guardian wishes to spare her the trauma of knowing someone died, but the deceased man's son, Michael (Peter Rudolph Jones) is not so lucky - or is he? Some of the crew believe he is happy to see him gone, and when the boy is handed over to sailor Paddy Button (Noel Purcell) they can't help but notice the welts on the child's back where he has been beaten...
But the worst is yet to come as they say, when this adaptation of Henry De Vere Stacpoole's celebrated novel turns into the archetypal tale of a shipwrecked couple. When Emmeline and Michael meet, they're not exactly on great terms, but get along with each other well enough even if the girl's best friend is really her doll. And it's that doll which gets them into the predicament that will last for years, as when a fire breaks out on the ship, which just had to be carrying dynamite, Emmeline goes back to save it, losing her place on the lifeboats.
Michael accompanies her and when the explosion goes off, they are stranded in a cabin, but luckily Paddy has followed them and guides them on to the remaining boat where they can set sail, or row anyway, to adventure. Even now the plotline is well known although that is more to do with the infamously lamebrained remake of 1980, though here you will find a more fairytale presentation which embraces the nature side of the situation. Stranks would be better known as a children's television presenter (Magpie and Paperplay were two of her shows), but she started in acting, and many who recall her may be surprised to see her here.
Not so the actress she "grows up" to become as the adult Emmeline, with Jean Simmons looking radiant set against the island scenery and rolling waves that her character ends up amidst. Adult Michael on the other hand is played by Donald Houston, who may not be many people's idea of the ideal romantic lead for this type of fantasy, and his stuffiness does bring the mood down somewhat. Paddy having been killed after a drunken binge some years before, these two are left to fend for themselves, and have done pretty well in a more glamorous version of Robinson Crusoe which is what The Blue Lagoon resembles.
As the ships pass by occasionally and never respond to their attention-seeking, Emmeline and Michael gradually become accustomed to island life (the film was actually shot in Fiji) so when two poor examples of the outside world appear, the roguish Carter (Cyril Cusack) and his assistant, they serve to underline the theme of the natural world having a purity and integrity that so-called civilisation does not. Of course, this idea of the nobility of throwing off the shackles of society to live in an isolated paradise is pretty much thrown away by the end, when the arrival of a baby prompts Emmeline to want to have him grow up to be "a gentleman" and a curiously ambiguous finale is the result. At least this version looks attractive, and the escapism it represented meant its appeal has endured long after its initial success. Music by Clifton Parker.