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Alice is a reclusive writer, resigned to a solitary life on the seaside cliffs of Southern England while World War II rages across the channel. When she opens her front door one day to find she's to adopt a young London evacuee named Frank, she's resistant. It's not long, however, before the two realize they have more in common in their pasts than Alice had assumed. Gemma Arterton, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Tom Courtenay star in this intensely emotional story of love's endurance in trying times.Written by
A beautiful and inspiring film with the first-rate Gemma Arterton and a great support cast.
My wife and I saw this in early August at one of our independent theaters, coming out of covid-19 lockdown. We joined a couple of dozen other viewers, socially distanced and masked up. I can't help wondering how the theaters are going to be able to turn a profit with this new normal.
This lovely film is a great starring vehicle for Gemma Arterton, who's become one of my favorites. Still in her mid-30's she's moved on from playing young attractive add-ons in fantasy films (Clash of the Titans, Prince of Persia, or the crazy splashy fun of Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters) and has built a growing and varied record in films playing lead roles in smaller-scale personal dramas like Tamara Drewe, Gemma Bovary, Vita and Virginia, Their Finest, a great Saint Joan at the London National Theatre, and more. Can't wait to see her in the upcoming King's Man.
In Summerland she plays Alice Lamb, a prickly and reclusive writer who (during WWII) is researching the mirage-like atmospheric phenomenon called the "Fata Morgana". To her surprise and much against her will she is saddled with looking after young schoolboy Frank (Lucas Bond) who, like many other wartime children, has been sent out of London to the provinces to stay safely out of the Blitz. Frank is a basically good-natured kid who's not put off by this apparently crusty "old lady", and the main arch of the plot follows their developing relationship into one of mutual love. Flashbacks to Alice's pre-war association with friend (and more than friend) Vera (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) are shown that fill in much of what we need to know about Alice. In the meantime, Frank strikes up a close friendship with a classmate Edie (Dixie Egerickx) as they follow their natural kids' imperatives to explore everywhere around their little town and seaside.
Those are just the basics, but the last third of the film goes beyond what I just said into more unexpected territory. Two or three major twists are coming, at least one of which is sort of predictable but at least one of which is certainly a surprise. But viewed from the end of the film looking backward, it makes sense. There's no cheating and nothing arbitrary. It's a much more complex story that it at first appears, it's well structured, and (especially) it's nicely paced. The scenery (the white cliffs and windswept meadows of Dover) has a role to play too, but it doesn't intrude on the story. No spoilers -- just go and see it to experience what I mean!
The two kids (Frank, Edie) are great: they're more than just placeholders filling in the gaps between the adult interactions in the story. Tom Courtenay makes a supporting appearance as an endearing, kindly schoolmaster. But this is Gemma Arterton's movie, make no mistake. She's grown into a masterful actress who (like all her recent parts) disappears so totally into her role that you're not even aware that she's acting. She has Oscar-level skill. But without getting involved in big-budget big-publicity roles I'm not sure she will ever get one. Nevertheless, what she's giving us is art at a high level all the same. The Brits seem so expert at crafting these types of movies -- warm, low-key, compelling personal stories with great casts and a sense of history. We could do a lot worse than get more of them.
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