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Summerland

Aug 2, 2020

In Covid times, a romance like this is a soothing breeze on a hot summer day in Dover.

Summerland

Grade: A-

Director: Jessica Swale

Screenplay: Swale

Cast: Gemma Arterton (Byzantium), Tom Courtenay (Doctor Zhivago)

Runtime: 1h 39m

Rating: PG

By: John DeSando

Ordinarily a formulaic melodrama like Summerland would be chock- full of sentimental claptrap, and it is. However, you’ll enjoy the sentiment and the real human values so much that you’ll forget the formula and remember it as a warm treatise on love, womanhood, and sacrifice. It’s that good despite its predictability, and maybe because of it, given the tears I secretly shed.

Alice (Gemma Arterton), a writer living alone during the blitz phase of WWII in the Dover, East Sussex, Kent coast of England, has a young London evacuee Frank (Lucas Bond) thrust upon her under the spirit of “We all have to do our part.” Although it’s hard not to know exactly where this is going to go (Frank’s not going anywhere), Arterton is so convincing as an introverted writer who actually needs his distraction that we accept her transformation without rolling eyes. It’s just good old heart-endearing storytelling.

First-time director Jessica Swale does an expert job of bringing in Alice and Frank’s baggage by flashback, especially Alice’s former love Vera (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). Alice still loves Vera despite her abandoning Alice to have a baby. While this past seriously impinges on the present, Swale never lets us forget the natural goodness of where they live and the war that must be won.

The love that binds, right down to Frank’s friend Edie (Dixie Egerickx), is everywhere despite the dark cloud of war not far from the coast. Cinematographer Laurie Rose captures the stark, lonely beauty of the coast without letting it become the centerpiece. Rose’s ability to make the landscape both forbidding and romantic reflects the ambivalences in Alice’s rich, complex character.

Although Alice makes mistakes such as treating Frank badly as an annoyance while she’s writing “academic treatises” no one will read or refusing to tell Frank about a parent’s death,  her capacity to love steals out from her to make her a charming, sympathetic character, not a witch as the locals figure her to be. “Summerland,” an allusion to a mythical world attractive to Frank and any other pre-teen, is a lovely romance that comes at a time for us when life demands sacrifice, patience, and unconditional love.

As Alice reminds Frank, "Life is not kind; anguish is inevitable.”

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JohnDeSando62@gmail.com