'Summerland' Review: Heartwarming British drama set in the backdrop of war is a delightful but predictable story
Gemma Arterton plays the reclusive and crotchety writer Alice Lamb, who snarls at the children in the local village
"The past is a different country, they do things differently there." LP Hartley's quote reverberates throughout Jessica Swale's feature directorial debut, 'Summerland', which oscillates between the past and the present. As it turns out, the flashbacks of the past are far more effective than the present. It's the past that garners your interest and steers the story forward.
At the very surface, 'Summerland' is a British war drama. But at its heart, it's a gentle drama — perhaps too gentle at times for its own good — which leaves one feeling rather wistful with its saccharine storyline and wholesome themes. Gemma Arterton plays the reclusive and crotchety writer Alice Lamb, who snarls at the children in the local village. To be honest, they give her fair reason. Alice is probably what many millennials envision themselves to be in the future, a writer, living in the idyllic English countryside, cut off from everyone to the point of being called a witch by the locals in a village.
The self-imposed solitary confinement is breached when a young boy named Frank (Lucas Bond), who is an evacuee from bombed-out London, finds shelter at her austere home while his parents help in war efforts. This part of the story is nothing unusual, you know where this goes. After the initial crankiness and irritation, they share a bond, and Frank slowly tears down Alice's carefully-built walls. His joy and cheer break Alice's icy exterior and they soon develop a close friendship, and much to her surprise, she finds herself sharing information about her work on 'Summerland' with him.
The floodgates open and we soon discover why Alice prefers to be the way she is. Yes, a broken heart is the reason. She remembers her ex-lover Vera and the intimate moments that they spent together. That's the beauty of 'Summerland'. It chooses to explore a same-sex and mixed-race love story from a time when such an idea was impossible and unforgivable. The queer aspect and racial diversity is the delightful aspect of the film and contributes to its uniqueness, even if it is unfortunately not the mainstay of the film.
'Summerland' ticks all the checkboxes of a British drama that can warm the cockles of your heart, including the seaside, the villages, the trepidation around World War II, and is by all means, a visual delight. The aesthetic pleasure of watching the film does almost gloss over the flaws of the predictable tale, that does fall into rather sappy and contrived scenes at points. It's not everyone's cup of tea, however.
'Summerland' is available on VOD.