REVIEW: SUMMERLAND (2020)

Summerland Feature Film Stills by Michael Wharley

Lucas Bond as “Frank” and Gemma Arterton as “Alice” in Jessica Swale’s SUMMERLAND. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films Release

“People like to have something to believe in. That’s what everyone wants.”

There are those mystical places that we often hear about. The Lost City of Atlantis, Neverland, or even Heaven, to name a few. There’s a need for us to cling to these worlds, whether its to believe in magic, or to have some hope to believe in. No matter what our reason is, these worlds make us feel something. Summerland tells the story of a woman and a young boy, who are in search of the mythical world, Summerland, as they struggle with lost love, death, and loneliness, in their own lives.

Alice (Gemma Arterton), a reclusive author, sits in her study, pouring herself over old maps and ancient stories for her newest academic theses — as she so bluntly puts it. One could say that Alice finds herself in the eye of a hurricane as WWII rages all around her local town. She’s the “crazy” lady in town, as she runs and yells at the students who force trash into her letterbox. Edie (Dixie Egerickx), one of the school children, even suspects Alice of being a witch, or a Nazi spy, take your pick. The townsfolk groan as they see her coming up the path. No one likes Alice, and no one wants to be around her. No doubt, Alice is a crude woman, who seems to be content living alone at her seaside cottage. Like so many people who are a bit “rough around the edges,” Alice’s past lingers in her mind. Alice’s relationship with Vera, a young black woman, still haunts her heart. Their love is abruptly halted when Vera wants to live out her dream of being a mother. A dream she knows could never happen if she stays with Alice. But when a young boy, Frank (Lucas Bond), is dropped at Alice’s doorstep (the whole town has volunteered to take in young boys and girls evacuating from London — the prime target point for German bombardments), Alice’s life is thrown for a loop. To Alice’s distain, the boy is nothing but a nuisance. She begrudgingly agrees to keep him for a week until the school can find another placement. It’s a slow progress, but within the week, the pair start to warm to one another —not without Alice’s occasional outburst, of course. Frank’s interest in her work is a jumping off point for the pair’s friendship, as they journey to find the island floating above the sea: Summerland.

Summerland rests upon the shoulders of Arterton, who has clearly had her ups and downs with various projects. Her performance is outstanding, and extraordinarily depicts such a complex character as Alice. It’s her time with Bond, however, that really make your heart melt. Though the most interesting plotline may be the telling of Alice and Vera’s lesbian love story, Alice and Frank’s friendship is the most crucial. The growing of the pair’s respect for one another, forces Alice to look in on herself, and breakdown the cold walls that have plagued her for so many years. Arterton and Bond beautifully illustrate this friendship, and make it so believable.

Though there’s a bit of trouble in the film, Summerland is a heart-warming piece. The shocking end is interesting, but it’s a little too shocking for its own good. The twist will lack the sentiment that the film is aiming for — causing audience members to look back and see the plot holes it creates. But Summerland is far from being a lost cause — rather a sweet film that borders on being a little cheesy.

Summerland

Written and Directed by: Jessica Swale

Starring: Gemma Arterton, Lucas Bond, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tom Courtenay, Dixie Egerickx, and Penelope Wilton

Rating: 

Summerland Feature Film Stills by Michael Wharley

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