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.

The year is 1975, and the cranky Alice (Penelope Wilton) sits typing furiously on her ageing typewriter. But the tranquillity of the silence and her tapping keys is soon disturbed by two children knocking at the front door of her coastal home. 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 the kids up and down and tells them to ‘bugger off!’ Before slamming the door and walking back to her typewriter. 


We are then taken back to Alice’s (Gemma Arterton) younger years, where she is no less sharp as she sits in the same cottage writing academic books on folklore. Fifty miles away in London, the Blitz is ravaging the capital and its communities, with kids being evacuated to the safety of the countryside. But as Alice writes, the falling bombs of the German Luftwaffe feel a world away until there is a mysterious knock on the front door. There on her doorstep stands a young evacuee, Frank (Lucas Bond), with a parish councillor. Of course, this strange young boy is both unexpected and inconvenient; after all, she had no intention of taking in any evacuees and had made that quite clear. Therefore, Alice insists on his removal before reluctantly agreeing to put him up for one night in her spare room. However, Alice soon finds herself warming to the boy as her fortress of solitude begins to crumble, and it is not long before her new young lodger opens a door to a long-held pain that requires a healing touch.


Summerland is wrapped in the magic of those long British summer days and coastal walks; here, the cinematography of Laurie Rose is truly stunning. But, the visual serenity and beauty are a mask for Alice’s internal pain, her life put on hold by choice, and her only friends the books surrounding her. For Alice, the arrival of Frank is an unexpected gift as rebirth comes into view. Swale’s ability to weave this stunning, humorous and gloriously rich drama with conversations on forbidden love is nothing short of outstanding. Here Swale embraces wartime themes of feminism, defiance, separation and liberation as the summer sun illuminates the stunning Kent coast and the opportunity to live anew. 


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