Film Review: Summerland (2020)

A fine lead performance from Gemma Arterton anchors the irascible charms and hidden secrets of the rather lovely Summerland

“Bad news is bad news no matter how you tell it. There’s nothing makes it easier.”

Given how highly I have rated Jessica Swale’s stage work and how much I love Gemma Arterton, heaven knows how it has taken me this long to get around to watching Summerland but here we are. This is her debut feature film and whilst I hope we don’t lose her from theatres, you have to hope that this is just the beginning of something big for her as this is a wonderful melange of bittersweetness and sentimentality.

It helps that the story ticks one of my all-time fave buttons – women in wartime. Arterton plays Alice, a recluse on the Kent coast whose crochety existence is disturbed by the arrival of evacuee Frank who has no place else to go. They rub each other the wrong way something chronic but of course a relationship grows between them. But as we dip back into Alice’s earlier years and meet the love of her life Vera – the luminous Gugu Mbatha-Raw – further layers of the story are revealed.

It might be too much for some but Summerland absolutely got me right in the feels. Its note of sour-sweet emotion are a constant delight as Arterton revels in Alice’s anarchic energy, so determined not to care what anyone thinks of her even as she can’t quite banish the realisation what that is costing her. And the thread of melancholic heaviness is one which the story carries well, social pressures and wartime realities hitting home across the picturesque village, not just chez Alice.

The film looks gorgeous too, cinematographer Laurie Rose’s sun-dappled work opening the doors for secrets to emerge. And there’s a delightful supporting cast on hand – Amandas Root and Lawrence plus Siân Phillips popping in, Tom Courtenay in genial form, Penelope Wilton getting in there as the older version of Alice and Lucas Bond’s Frank delivering beautifully nuanced work against some real heavyweights. A stirring love story on multiple levels and an ode to the independent-minded, a triumph.

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