Summerland: Review – Award-winning playwright Jessica Swale’s directorial debut is heart-wrenching yet light, a much needed warm story for these chaotic times.
As cinema’s nationwide slowly open their shutters and dust off their seats, Summerland is a welcome and timely treat. Looking back at one of the darkest times during the 20th century, Swale invites us into the home of the reclusive busy-body Alice (Gemma Arterton) near the white cliffs of Dover during WW2. The young-frantic academic who somewhat resembles a story-book witch with frazzled hair is shocked to find a young evacuee on her doorstep. Initially cold to her new roommate Frank (Lucas Bond), the duo end up warming to each other, creating lovable mother-son dynamic. It’s a somewhat bittersweet tale of motherhood, sexuality and grievance, and has a lot more depth than one might expect from the rather sluggish opening hour.
Though initially rather slow, the story finds its stride and as a result, creates a rather enduring and captivating period piece with a distinctly British charm only enhanced by stunning countryside and some impressive set pieces. From sharp, white cliffs to London engulfed in smoke and debris, it makes you comfortable with the serenity of country life before throwing you into the chaotic streets of WW2 London head first.
The village feels alive, with characters such as Edie (Dixie Egerickx) and Mr Sullivan (Tom Courtenay) giving it that magic of ordinary life.
The acting talents of Gemma Arterton as Alice make for an enjoyable watch, Alice, although initially icy and unlikable, has hidden lovable qualities and a great character arc. A strong, although hot-headed woman, her past is tormented by a long lost love who could have been, if not for societal pressures at that time. Constantly hidden away, constantly typing away whilst the local school children berate her for either being a witch or a Nazi spy.
Her relationship with Frank is largely a highlight of the flick, and with great revelations unfolded in the latter half of the film, Summerland’s ending feels satisfying, making you want to weep like a child and smile with glee as it radiates a grand sense of joy. Alice’s characters blossoms while caring for young Frank, a bubbly youngster, curious and optimistic despite his Father fighting in the war as a pilot, and his mother working in London during the Blitz.
Summerland has come at the perfect time, feeling refreshing like a breath of summer countryside air, it’s a story of companionship and responsibilities being thrust upon you during difficult times. It’s heartwarming, a lighter Goodnight Mr Tom (1998) and is well worth heading back to the Cinema for.
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