Playwright Jessica Swale made a huge impact on the world of the stage in 2015/16 with her award-winning play Nell Gwynn, which was bolstered by its central performance, played effortlessly by both Gemma Arterton and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Now, Swale has transitioned from the stage to the screen and has reunited with both Arterton and Mbatha-Raw for her debut feature film, Summerland. Set during WWII, the film centres on a grouchy, reclusive writer who reluctantly has to look after a young evacuee, and it’s only a matter of time before the steeliness fades from her and she’s able to loosen up more, especially as she starts remembering romance from earlier on in her life.
This is really a film about reclaiming happiness and joy, and after the first 15 or so minutes, you know exactly how this story is going to pan out. They try to throw in a twist about the young child later on, which may surprise some, though if you pay very close attention, the twist might become too obvious. Summerland is a film where what you see is what you get; it’s a typical cozy British film, with plenty of pleasures but very few surprises.
What helps enormously is Gemma Arterton being exceptional as ever, nailing the right balance of grumpy and nuanced. Arterton is a performer who has graced many films with her talents (The Disappearance of Alice Creed, The Escape and Their Finest) and stage (Saint Joan, Nell Gwynn and Made in Dagenham), and this film perfectly demonstrates just what an excellent talent she is. Penelope Wilton, in the short amount of time she’s in, is wonderful (honestly, when isn’t she?), while Tom Courtenay is brilliantly avuncular in both a grouchy and lovely manner. The young cast in both Lucas Bond and Dixie Egerickx (who in particular is to take centre stage in the forthcoming adaptation of The Secret Garden) also show real promise as rising stars to watch out for.
This is a film that belongs in the same camp of films like 2018’s The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society, films that you could watch on a Sunday afternoon with a nice cuppa’ tea. Whether that’s your specific cuppa’ tea or not will largely depend on how you personally feel about those kinds of films, and it doesn’t quite have the impact of Their Finest, which was another British wartime movie starring Gemma Arterton and is a much better movie by comparison. However, taken as a whole, Summerland is perfectly fine and it’s down to the strength of Arterton’s performance that makes this film at least worth a watch.
Dir: Jessica Swale
Scr: Jessica Swale
Cast: Gemma Arterton, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Lucas Bond, Dixie Egerickx, Siân Phillips, Penelope Wilton, Tom Courtenay
Prd: Guy Heeley, Adrian Sturges
DOP: Laurie Rose
Music: Volker Bertelmann
Runtime: 99 minutes
Summerland is out in cinemas on July 31st