Directed by: Jessica Swale – Starring: Gemma Arterton, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Lucas Bond, Dixie Egerickx, Siân Phillips, Penelope Wilton, Tom Courtenay
The title of this movie might sound cheery, but Summerland in fact refers to a pagan ‘heaven’.
However, the characters are far from living in any sort of heaven, given that we meet them in the midst of WWII, with rationing and blackouts in full flow.
While everyone is doing their bit for the war effort, reclusive and independent writer, Alice (Arterton) is almost oblivious to the world around her, and her brusque manner doesn’t really endear her to her neighbours.
Her social bubble for one is burst when she finds herself appointed the guardian of a young evacuee, Frank (Bond) who has been sent to the coast to escape the bombings in London. Horrified at this disruption to her life, she demands that he be re-homed elsewhere, but his cheeky and inquisitive manner soon wins her over, and causes her to reflect on her lost love, Vera (Mbatha-Raw).
While, on the surface, Summerland looks like a gentle English drama, it manages to deal with many serious issues, such as racial diversity and LGBTQ rights, in a refreshing way. Alice’s sexuality is dealt with sensitively, rather than sensationally. Quite often, relationships like the one presented here are presented almost as titillation, but with a female director at the helm, that is (thankfully) stripped away.
Arterton gives a fantastic performance that is both subtle and intense. She resists the urge to overplay Alice’s hurt and anger, and instead presents it as something simmering that could explode at any moment, which is far more effective. She has a lovely chemistry with Bond, who brings a depth to his performance that belies his years – particularly in the heavier scenes.
The emotional turmoil of the characters and the war is juxtaposed by the beautiful cinematography. Summerland is visually stunning, and the coastal shots are particularly breathtaking. The UK tourist board could do worse than use this as an advertisement for staycations.
Summerland has surprisingly more depth than you initially expect, and its gentleness and beauty only serve to enhance the impact of the story. It’s the kind of film that takes you on a journey that you don’t even realise you’ve been on, until after it ends. It is satisfying rather than entertaining, and a really lovely watch.
In Cinemas Now!