- Colin Fraser
THREE STARS During WW2, a young boy becomes the ward of a self-absorbed, short-tempered writer in rural England.
Gemma Arterton, Penelope Wilton
DRAMA UK #SUMMERLAND
There are few surprises in this wartime drama about a writer and her ward, but what it lacks in daring it makes up for with warmth and compassion. It’s the kind of period drama you’d cosy up to on Sunday evening when narrative challenges are not allowed to keep you up all night.
Alice is a young woman (the always appealing Gemma Arterton) living alone on the British coast. She’s an academic writer and something of an outcast in her village. However the Nazi’s are about to interrupt her peace when bombing raids force many children out of London and into the care of foster families. She is sent Frank (Lucas Bond) and very reluctantly agrees to take the boy in. Temporarily mind you, she’s got a thesis to write and can’t be distracted by the noisy needs of children.
Unsurprisingly, Frank worms his way into her heart and unearths the secret that has Alice offside with the village. As indicated, it isn’t especially hard to follow the narrative arc nor predict its landing point - this is the kind of drama that will be wrapped up in a happy, tidy bow of Sunday night cosiness. Again, that’s not a spoiler.
Plot challenges aside, SUMMERLAND has a wonderful comfort-food quality about it, as if this story was a break-out episode of DOWNTON ABBEY (albeit in a different era and class). The presence of Penelope Wilton as an older Alice bookending the story only heightens that feeling. Yet in a curious way, there’s also a subversive undercurrent as it outwardly reaches for audiences who may be rather uncomfortable with one of the story’s central themes, one of the film’s big reveals. Yet once lured in, Arterton’s charm is sure to convince the most vocal conservative to lower their megaphone.
Placed in a heightened world only found in TV sagas like DOWNTON, SUMMERLAND would benefit from a little less sugar and little more reality. The most harrowing scene finds Alice chasing Frank through the stylised aftermath of a bomb strike in London. Given the bright, sunny scenes that came before this is unexpectedly disturbing, but such moments are rare. Mostly it’s a charmingly wholesome walk through awkward conversations that ends with a group hug.
Featured in the British Film Festival 2020