Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Summer in February: Jealous Paint

Sir Alfred Munnings work goes for millions of dollars at auction, but if you do not collect English sporting art, he might not be on your radar. After his election as president of the Royal Academy of Art, he notoriously railed against modernists like Picasso.  However, before he embodied the establishment, A.J. Munnings was quite the carouser.  His scandalous days in a Cornwall artists’ colony inspired Christopher Menaul’s Summer in February (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Gilbert Evans is exactly the sort of gentleman Florence Carter-Wood should marry.  The upper-upper-middle-class-bordering-on-blue-blooded Evans is an easy going military officer, who manages the Cornwall estate that hosts the colony, when he is not away on active duty.  In contrast, Munnings is the classic bad boy artist, who gets away with a lot, because he is widely considered the leading light of his artistic generation. 

Both men are interested in Carter-Wood, but Munnings is far more proactive. Carter-Wood is also rather attracted to the shy Evans, but as an aspiring art student, the idea of Munnings holds a powerful sway over her.  She will make a choice and it will be the wrong one.  At least, the coastal Cornwall vistas make quite a picturesque backdrop for the brooding that results.

Releasing in January rather than its eponymous month, February’s distributor is probably hoping to appeal to Downton Abbey viewers missing Cousin Matthew Crowley during season four.  Indeed, executive producer Dan Stevens largely falls back on pleasant but familiar territory. Still, he does have a likable earnestness as true blue Gilbert Evans.  In fact, he represents a happy medium between Dominic Cooper’s blustery Burtonesque Munnings and Emily Browning’s icy pale Carter-Wood.  As is often the case, the supporting cast provides some nice color and seasoning, particularly Hattie Morahan and Shaun Dingwall as Laura and Harold Knight, Munnings’ slightly less famous married contemporaries.

As polite costume dramas go, February is perfectly presentable.  Frankly, cinematographer Andrew Dunn ought to earn a commission from Cornwall’s tourism bureau.  Menaul also smoothly incorporates Munnings’ work into the narrative, while Anglophiles will enjoy recognizing the many top shelf British character actors. It would be an above average installment of PBS’s Masterpiece, but is more of a classy trifle by theatrical standards.  Moderately recommended for Downton fans, Summer in February opens this Friday (1/17) in New York at the Quad Cinema.