Director: Jessica Swale
Starring: Gemma Arterton, Lucas Bond, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Dixie Egerickx, Siân Phillips, Penelope Wilton and Tom Courtenay
Run time: 1h 39m
Cranky, cantankerous Alice (Gemma Arterton) is living in an isolated cottage on the Kent coast during World War II, immersing herself in books. Dubbed a witch by the local children, who dare to spy on her and cause mischief, and dismissed as rude by the adults, she writes academic theses (definitely not stories) on the analysis of folklore, researching the science behind myths and legends.
When an evacuee from London, Frank (Lucas Bond), is placed in her reluctant care, Alice’s world is turned upside down and she’s forced to confront her past to move on with her future. As Alice begins to involve Frank in her studies, the two become close and their relationship becomes emotionally compromised by heart-breaking circumstances.
Written and directed by Jessica Swale, Summerland is delightfully charming and full of warmth. Tinged with melancholy, and although a little melodramatic in places, there’s a sense of optimism throughout which provides a much-needed escape in these worrying and uncertain times. Swale has put together a comforting tale of love, sacrifice and hope in a very British film.
An ethereal air hangs over Summerland and this is where the film takes its name. An atheist, Alice explains that heaven is a fictional place created by Christians to bring comfort to those left behind. What happened to all those that died before Christianity began? Why, they go to Summerland. A mystical realm that surrounds us. The dead attempt to communicate with the living by manipulating clouds and it’s through this that provides some of the film’s more emotional moments.
Gemma Arterton has never been better. Using flashbacks, we catch glimpses of a previous relationship that goes some way to explaining why Alice behaves the way she does. Her resentment of children and emotional detachment to them is revealed and her ice-cold demeanour being slowly melted away by Frank’s plight is fascinating to watch. Lucas Bond shows a maturity beyond his years with his bewilderment and fear at leaving his parents in London not helped by the frosty reception he walks into.
The lovable Tom Courtenay provides moments of comic relief, doing what he does in his doddery yet assured way and Dixie Egerickx, as Frank’s friend Edie, also impresses as she struggles to come to terms with the loss of a parent and the effects of the war. There’s a beautiful score provided by Volker Bertelmann full of piano and strings whilst acclaimed cinematographer Laurie Rose showcases the beauty of Kent’s countryside using cliffs and clouds to great effect.
With Summerland, Jessica Swale has crafted a poignant, gentle piece of cinema that occasionally hits hard, but has a breezy tenderness to it which is well worth exploring.
Summerland drifts into UK cinemas from July 31st.