With the current tumultuous position of big blockbuster releases delaying the return of a pre-lockdown slate of films to cinemas, it appears to be the time for smaller and more independent movies to rise. With a slew of reruns and older classics propping up cinemas that have recently reopened, Lionsgate’s Summerland is one of the first new (and star studded) films to potentially kick off the UK releases.
Written and directed by Olivier Award winning Jessica Swale, Summerland centres on ostracised cynical writer Alice (Gemma Arterton), who’s eccentric life debunking myths is turned upside down when Frank (Lucas Bond), an evacuee from London, turns up at her doorstep. As the two struggle to co-exist while she finishes her latest book on folklore, his innocence and childlike wonder slowly impacts her outlook on life, helping her move on from her past and free her imagination.
Despite a couple of bumps along the way, this is a wonderfully gentle and heartwarming British film which offers a refreshing level of hope, which let’s face it, we all need right now. Swale boldly features contemporary views challenging stereotypical portrayals of womanhood, sexuality and family in a WW2 setting. The fact that residents in the coastal village consider her a witch because she is a woman in her thirties living alone, with the local kids dumping soil and rubbish through her letterbox, instantly makes you empathise for the writer. The reasons for her ill-tempered and cold exterior are slowly explored through a number of heartbreaking flashbacks, as we see her relationship with Vera (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) breakdown as the expectations of motherhood become too great a pull.
The powerful watch features a couple of twists and turns along the way, but there’s a certain degree of safety to the film. Feeling in a similar league to other British dramas such as The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society, Their Finest and Goodnight Mr Tom, the draw of Alice’s adventure for Pagan mystical realms and floating islands could have really set the film apart. Other than a key emotional scene as the two head out on a quest to discover the titular magical occurrence, I feel this aspect of the plot was disappointingly underused.
Gemma Arteton continues her impressive run as the eccentric folklore investigator, who shines thanks to a marvelous transformative arc. Yes Alice was a little hard to warm to at the start, but her frosty reception to Frank was understandable as she resents children for the failure of her past relationship. The growing central relationship was particularly heartwarming though, with Lucas Bond impressively carrying a lot of the film’s emotional weight. The supporting cast were also excellent, with highlights including Dixie Egerickx as Frank’s quirky friend Edie and Tom Courtenay’s humorously bumbling Mr. Sullivan.
The film is exquisitely brought to life by cinematographer Laurie Rose, who’s beautiful, sweeping vistas of the coast were filmed at the iconic clifftop cottages at Cuckmere Haven, Sussex along with the towns of Seaford, Brighton and Kent. The production design by Christine Moore, along with the costume design by Claire Finlay, impressively transports you back to a fully realised WW2 setting.