World War II period drama and romance film Summerland, written and directed by British playwright Jessica Swale in her feature film debut, is a surprising delight and is honestly one of the most emotionally and visually beautiful films that I have a seen in a long time.
We first meet reclusive writer Alice Lamb in older form, played by Penelope Wilton, shown alone in a small cottage and writing profusely on her typewriter. While Wilton’s performance is prominently important, most of the film follows a much younger Alice played by the talented Gemma Arterton. The film follows Alice as she finds herself being forced to house young Frank, played by 15-year-old Lucas Bond (13-years-old at the time of filming), an evacuee from the London Blitz. Although extremely reluctant at first to take the child in, Alice begins to form a strong bond with Frank and slowly begins learn to open her heart again.
The film contains a non-linear narrative told through flashbacks where viewers visit Alice’s past at different points in time. Despite this choice in storytelling, the flashbacks never feel out of place, not one scene is ever unnecessary to the overall plot, and the pacing of the film and scenes all flow seamlessly and marry together nicely.
I say with no exaggeration that Gemma Arterton is phenomenal in this feature. The way Arteton portrays Alice’s growth in Summerland is emotional, impressive and effortless. Even when not speaking the dialogue, Arteton’s face is deeply expressive and you can instantly feel every single rollercoaster of emotions that Alice is going through with her performance. Her on-screen chemistry with both Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s Vera and Lucas Bond as Frank is dynamic, feels very natural and is extremely believable. Admittedly, I was completely surprised after watching the film to discover that it isn’t based on a true story, because it really seems like Summerland is based on truth with how real the storyline and characters feel.
Lucas Bond is great as Frank, and both he and his character appear to have a maturity beyond their years. Bond manages to maintain Frank’s purity, patience and innocence, especially when interacting with his reluctant guardian, Alice. Sir Tom Courtenay also shines during his few moments on-screen as a guiding voice of reason for Alice and as the gentlemanly school principal, Mr Sullivan.
If the storyline isn’t enough to move you, the film also contains a colourful palette (despite being a war movie), detailed period costumes, beautiful music written and composed by Volker Bertelmann, as well as the stunning cinematography by Laurie Rose, which proudly displays impressive filming locations of both East Sussex and Brighton in the UK. Honestly, it makes me want to travel and visit a British country village during the UK summer in future.
Overall, I really don’t want to give too much away, but Summerland is definitely worth catching on the big screen. Not only did Summerland move me to tears (this is an understatement, I was sobbing), but it is a wonderful film about war, life, love, family, heartache, acceptance and new begins. I love Summerland.