Running Time: 99 minutes
Written and directed by: Jessica Swale
Featuring: Gemma Arterton, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Lucas Bond, Dixie Egerickx, Siân Phillips, Penelope Wilton and Tom Courtenay
Mr. Sullivan: “Bad news is bad news no matter how you tell it. There’s nothing makes it easier.”
Released recently on DVD is, “Summerland” (2020), the latest film featuring Gemma Arterton in a World War II era story after the excellent “Their Finest” (2017) which not only had a fun and inventive plot but also held deeper meaning about loss, sacrifice and love which carry on even through a war which is not being fought on the fronts but at home in very different ways. The idea of the war film is set in stone and is a very real, recognisable and constant genre that is easily transplantable from conflict to conflict and nation to nation. However there is a sub genre which is easily as fascinating as a film filled with action and that is what happens at home and these films have been more regular in the past ten years especially those produced and about the UK, they offer new twists as well as untold true stories told by people with new points of view, “Summerland” is one of those films.
“Summerland” brings together a very good high profile cast, gives them all room to breathe with their own stories that link up to the main narrative. It’s remarkable the seeming ease that the British Film Industry is able to produce great independent drama, comedies and horror movies each and every year. Not only that, but the talent on show always seems to be original as well as first class. What many of these English films have in common is that they are based around something unique or have some kind of gimmick, this new movie “Summerland” has both of those. This movie has much in common with many of the British movies produced over the past twenty years, it has some well known actors that could all carry their own movies, it has a concentration of on location production, is based on a very English story and most often has relatively inexperienced writers and directors. What is healthy to see with “Summerland” is that it is a feminist narrative that has been directed and co-written by women who are not newcomers with some experience in large productions.
“Summerland” is set in 1945 and is based around Alice Lamb, who is working on her typewriter, lives in a cottage by the seaside in Kent. She has lived in the village since before the start of WWII, during which time she tolerated the harassment by local children who thought she was a witch because she was a loner. As part of the war effort, the brusque and reclusive writer is entrusted with the care of a young boy, Frank, who has been evacuated from London where it is unsafe. Alice had not volunteered to be a host and does not want to care for him as she fears it will interfere with her work researching mythology and folklore, but reluctantly agrees to let him stay believing that he has nowhere else to go and she will be able to be rid of him in a week. Of course you can almost guess what happens from this point onward but it is executed in such a way that makes this a movie more than the sum of its parts.
Written and directed by newcomer Jessica Swale who while having little experience in cinema has extensive and impressive theatre credits so brings that aspect to bear with her cinematographer Laurie Rose, who lends a glowing look to the rural environment.
The film is led by Gemma Arteton who has played these characters for years sometimes playing against her looks which she could use but uses her talent to provide audiences with a look into a bygone era as well as bygone people. The other main role goes to Gugu Mbatha-Raw who is great as the face that haunts Alice’s dreams, reminding her how much she has lost. The rest of the film is cast with terrific character actors in the form of Tom Courtenay as the avuncular and schoolmaster, as well as Bond and Dixie Egerickx, who plays Edie, who is bucking the system she has been born into.
This is yet another UK based movie in a long line that illustrates what an expert industry the English have as well as the talent that is available seemingly at will. “Summerland” is a very good film and one that will bring a smile to anyone that watches it and will remind people how life used to be and the reason why people used to make the decisions they would make. It also offers hope in that it perfectly illustrates that people are able to change their minds and point of view which is something that could be learnt in todays polarising world.