Review: Summerland

Year: 2020
Runtime: 99 Minutes
Director: Jessica Swale
Writers: Jessica Swale
Stars: Gemma Arterton, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tom Courtenay, Lucas Bond

By Tom Moore

The newest offering from IFC Films and the feature debut for writer director Jessica Swale, “Summerland”, is a moving journey through womanhood, friendship, and love as an Englishwoman reconciles with her past during the London Blitz.

As we meet Alice (Gemma Arterton), a determined and individualistic researcher/writer obsessed with English folklore, we see that she’s quite the recluse and even though we’re far and away from Christmas or Whoville, her attitude and outlook heavily resembles The Grinch. She makes a threatening remark to Mr. Sullivan (Tom Courtenay), a local school official, about buying a shotgun to take care of the kids that keeps bothering her and basically pulls a mean-spirited move that’s the equivalent of knocking a kid’s ice cream cone out of their hands. To be fair, the surrounding town of Kent gives her plenty of grief as she’s seen as a wicked witch as well as a Nazi spy and the kids torment her to no end while the parents attempt to keep them away. Alice basically embodies all the qualities in the people that are often labeled as spinsters or, more modernly, crazy cat ladies.

Copyright: IFC Films

However, “Summerland” is unique in how Swale tackles this common stereotype and ends up creating one of the most endearing character arcs I’ve seen recently thanks to Arterton’s great performance as well as the great dynamic between Alice and a young evacuee she is initially reluctant to take care of named Frank (Lucas Bond). Often times, characters like Alice are seen as initially unlikable side-characters with a small arc, but Swale really fleshes her out and brings her out of her shell through the relationship she develops with Frank.

“Arterton is in top form here as she evokes an incredibly wide range of emotions as Frank, as well as viewers, get to know Alice better. Every shred of happiness and care that Alice eventually shows Frank is like it pouring out of her for the first time in a while and it’s what makes Arterton’s performances full of irresistible charm.”

The bond that grows between Alice and Frank is truly heartwarming as they go on small adventures to further Alice’s mythical research, talk more about Frank’s family, and Alice begins to reconcile with the fallout of a past romance with a woman named Vera (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). There’s a very deep mother/son-like relationship that builds throughout the film and that’s easy to connect to because the chemistry between Arterton and Bond is so enjoyable. The laughs they share really make an impact and give the film much more relaxing tone that matches the mostly soft, summery score from Volker Bertelmann perfectly. It’s a connection that carries a lot of meaning as Frank is one of the only people that shows any sort of compassion and care in getting to know her and it allows Alice’s more heartfelt side to show.

Arterton is in top form here as she evokes an incredibly wide range of emotions as Frank, as well as viewers, get to know Alice better. Every shred of happiness and care that Alice eventually shows Frank is like it pouring out of her for the first time in a while and it’s what makes Arterton’s performances full of irresistible charm. The film also creates some great empathy around Alice as there’re many relatable qualities she shares with first-time parents with some of “mistakes” she makes and how her past relationship with Vera was viewed bleeds into the present.

Copyright: IFC Films

There’s this incredibly pivotal scene of Alice opening up Frank about her romantic relationship with Vera that hits on all fears and worries that have kept her closed off and ends up being an incredibly powerful moment because of Arterton’s reaction. It’s easy to feel how Frank’s acceptance of her means so much to her and how much of an emotional release it is for her to finally feel accepted by someone. Not to mention, it opens up this freeing conversation about life and happiness between the two that’ll likely connect with many viewers. It’s a strong moment for depicting lesbian love on-screen that’ll leave viewers a tearful mess and seeing the budding romance between Alice and Vera only adds to it as every scene with them will fill your heart with love.

“While it’s nice to have films like “Vivarium” and “Da 5 Bloods” perfectly reflect the tone and time of the present, it’s sometimes even better to have films that give an outlook of a more hopeful future – and “Summerland” does that in a nutshell.”

Arterton and Mbatha-Raw really give meaning to the term “whirlwind romance” and it blossoms into sense of love that viewers can feel as well as a relationship that touches on the different views on life that collide into their separate present. Even though they really do love one another, the film isn’t afraid to touch on how different they want to live life and what they want their womanhood to mean to them. Swale does an excellent job utilizing these different outlooks to create some surprising connections between past and present that evoke heart-breaking and complex emotions near the film’s end. It’s made even more satisfying with how the film touches on how this experience has impacted the lives of everyone years down the road and it leaves things on a perfectly pleasant note that’s instantly uplifting.

Copyright: IFC Films

While it’s nice to have films like “Vivarium” and “Da 5 Bloods” perfectly reflect the tone and time of the present, it’s sometimes even better to have films that give an outlook of a more hopeful future – and “Summerland” does that in a nutshell. Swale truly creates a heart-warming debut filled with a powerful romance, a building connection that tears down barriers, and showcases Arterton giving an absolutely immaculate performance.

4.5 stars

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