Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Summerland: Evacuated to the Countryside, with Gemma Arterton

England is the home of the stiff upper lip, but even Churchill or King George VI would bawl like babies if they had to live with Alice Lamb. She never signed up to take in a child evacuee from London, but she somehow got stuck hosting poor Frank (he’d rather face the Blitz). Yet, she might just start taking a shine to him in the brief time before she has him reassigned to more human guardians in screenwriter-director Jessica Swale’s Summerland, which releases this Friday in very select theaters and on VOD.

Lamb lives alone and only cares for her research on Pagan folklore. In a movie from the era, this would mean her intended was killed during the war, but as a contemporary production, we expect it means something else (which would be correct). That also explains why she feels so alienated from her fellow villagers. Lamb is less than welcoming when Frank is almost literally dumped on her doorstep. She insists Mr. Sullivan, the genteel white-haired school master find another place for him, but his intelligence starts to win her over in the meantime. Unfortunately, her own emotional immaturity will inevitably precipitate a crisis with her temporary ward.

Most of
Summerland is very safe and conventional, but it suddenly takes a wildly contrived turn during the third act. Still, it is an impressive star-vehicle for Gemma Arterton, who displays a wide range of prickly, anti-social behavior as Lamb. Lucas Bond’s Frank most certainly looks and acts like a curly-haired moppet, but he is effective expressing the grief and confusion of a child confronting the tragedies of war. Likewise, Dixie Egerickx makes a strong impression as Frank’s tough on-the-outside, insecure on-the-inside friend, Edie (but the talented young thesp will probably have to change her name soon to avoid getting canceled).

Gugu Mbatha-Raw has a key flashback role, but she remains more of a hazy, gauzy symbol than a flesh-and-blood character. Anyone raised on classic 1960s English cinema will also shake their heads at Tom Courtenay’s complete conversion from “angry young man” to “kindly old-timer,” in this case, the painfully tweedy Mr. Sullivan.

is a nice movie—perhaps nice to a fault. It probably could have used a little more edge or a little more wartime patriotic heroism. Nevertheless, there are far worse things to sit through than cinematic niceness. It is also notable for some of Arterton’s best work since Their Finest. An okay diversion for Anglophiles, but certainly not required viewing, Summerland opens this Friday (7/31) at a few theaters (like the Avon in Stamford, CT) and releases simultaneously on VOD platforms.