Summerland (2020)

Summerland is available to rent, buy or stream now.

Initially destined for a BFI Flare premiere in March 2020, writer/director Jessica Swale’s beautiful, heartwarming and optimistic Summerland sadly never reached the cinema screen due to COVID 19. Unfortunately, like so many films in 2020, this meant Summerland arrived online with little fanfare, despite its great reviews. Therefore, if you haven’t heard of this British gem, I forgive you. But, trust me when I say Summerland is not only a stunning slice of wartime drama, but a heartfelt exploration of a love lost and found.  

It’s 1975, and the cranky Alice (Penelope Wilton) sits typing furiously on her ageing typewriter. However, the tranquillity and quiet of her coastal home are soon invaded by two children knocking at the door. Rising from her chair Alice opens the door and asks what they want in a sharp voice, to which the children innocently and softly reply that they are raising money for the elderly. Alice looks at them with disdain and quickly tells them to bugger off, before slamming the door and walking back to her typewriter. 


We are then taken back to Alice in her younger years (Gemma Arterton). Alice is no less obstinate as she wallows in self-isolation while writing academic books on folklore. Meanwhile, fifty miles away in London, the Blitz takes its toll as the capitals kids leave for the safety of the countryside. But, for Alice, the falling bombs of the German Luftwaffe feel a world away from the quiet serenity of her cottage until there is a mysterious knock on the front door, where a young evacuee, Frank (Lucas Bond), stands waiting alongside a parish counsellor.

Of course, this strange young boy is both unexpected and inconvenient; after all, she had no intention of taking in any evacuees. Therefore, Alice insists on his removal with her usual abruptness. But soon, Alice finds herself warming to the boy as the ice surrounding her fortress of solitude begins to crack, and it is not long before her new young lodger helps her to explore a past hurt and regret that still burns brightly.


Summerland inhabits a magical world of long summer days, dusty books and ocean spray through the stunning cinematography of Laurie Rose. But, this visual serenity and beauty is also a mask for Alice’s internal pain, her life put on hold by choice, her only friends the books surrounding her. Here Alice’s life is incomplete due to losing her one true love, Vera (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). The pain of what could have been chipping away at her as she relives their break-up over and over again.

The arrival of Frank not only heralds a much-needed break from the thoughts that have never found peace in Alice’s mind but also provides an opportunity for her rebirth. Here Swale’s ability to weave discussions on forbidden love into a light yet emotionally charged wartime drama is nothing short of outstanding. While simultaneously embracing wartime themes of feminism, defiance, separation and liberation. The result is a film that shines as brightly as the summer sun, illuminating the stunning Kent coastline. 

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