Film Review – Summerland

Summerland (M)

Directed by: Jessica Swale

Starring: Gemma Arterton, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Lucas Bond

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

During World War II, prickly academic Alice (Gemma Arterton) spends most of her time alone in her cliff side cottage in Southern England writing and researching, while the local children think she is a witch.

When a young London evacuee Frank (Lucas Bond) is placed in her care, the spinster immediately tries to palm him off to another family, but she eventually softens and the two form a close bond.

The relationship triggers memories for Alice of an emotionally turbulent time in her past – her loving relationship in the 1920s with Vera (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a fellow writer, whose idea of family clashed with Alice’s which eventually tore the two apart.

Making a solid feature film directorial debut, Jessica Swale gives us a fresh take on wartime set films with a female and queer perspective, and set in a three dimensional town populated with a variety of cute, quirky, sassy and likable characters.

Swale delicately and skillfully handles and weaves the queer element into the story and it slowly becomes clear how the fate of Alice’s past relationship informs her attitude and characteristics later during the 1940s.

While there are conventional elements and it treads dangerously close to melodrama at times, Summerland does pack a surprising twist towards the end that is there for emotional impact rather than just shock value, which is rare.

Summerland is also a vehicle for the talented Gemma Arterton, who shines in the lead role, exhibiting extraordinary range that she is rarely offered the opportunity to explore.

From the impeccable delivery of her hilariously cheeky and bitter tinged lines to unsuspecting townspeople (young and old) to the vulnerability displayed later on as the prickly exterior slowly fades away, Arterton achieves some of her best on-screen work.

It is an added thrill to see her in top form.

Summerland screens as part of the British Film Festival 2020.

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