Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jessica Swale
Screenwriter: Jessica Swale
Cast: Gemma Arterton, Lucas Bond, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Penelope Wilton, Siân Phillips, Tom Courtenay, Amanda Root
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/22/20
Opens: July 31, 2020
If you’re a fan of World War 2 movies you might have seen the stirring Warner Bros. films “Into the Arms of Strangers” (2000) about the Kindertransport, wherein thousands of children were sent from Nazi-dominated Europe to relative safety in the UK. Now comes something similar; a tale of heroic actions by which women in the rural areas of the UK were volunteered temporarily to take in kids living in London during the blitz, transported to the safety of the sticks. “Summerland,” which gets its title from a pagan heaven, is Jessica Swale’s freshman output as a narrative film, a solikd beginning which is mostly a casually-paced drama of a solitary writer with a cantankerous personality that makes none of us wonder why she is still single. However, in flashes of her backstory, we find her living happier moments during a romantic relationship with another woman who must sadly abandon her because she wants nothing more than having a regular family.
The picture is bookmarked by the older Alice (Penelope Wilton) who in 1975 pecks away at her typewriter, having completed a novel based on her wartime experiences. During the early stages of World War II, Alice (Gemma Arterton), then in her mid-thirties, learns that she has been drafted to take in Frank (Lucas Bond in his third feature film), a boy of about 13 who has arrived from London with a father who is in the British army and a mother who is looking out for the lad’s safety during the blitz. Since Alice has been attacked by the local riff-raff kids who consider her a witch because she is a woman living alone, we don’t need to wonder that she agrees, kicking and screaming, to take the kid in “for a week.” Predictably enough, young Frank is about to find a place in her heart, an organ that appears semi-comatose since her lover Vera (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) left her to find a man and raise some kids.
At first Alice barely speaks to Frank, who is expected to clean and cook while she is writing a thesis debunking pagan myths, including that of Summerland, a land of eternal summer, with grassy fields and sweet flowing rivers, perhaps the Earth before the advent of humans. a Frank is not deterred. He shows genuine interest in a picture book about the legends and in one situation actually “sees” this Summerland, which is nothing more than a fata morgana.
Given the place in which women have been kept for centuries as people who should keep quiet unless spoken to but should relish nothing more than baking cookies, raising kids, and cleaning, this woman is among those who, when the men are off fighting, are called for tasks needed for the war effort. In this case it’s for the vitally important job of taking in children to save them from the bombings in London. In the movie’s major twist, we learn more about how Alice was picked for this particular child.
The story is deepened by the companions that Frank makes in the new school, particularly of Edie (Dixie Egerickx), who at first is afraid to join her new boyfriend Frank at the home of “the witch” but softens up when she discovers that Alice may be a normal woman after all. Tom Courtney, sounding like Peter O’Toole as Mr. Sullivan, the school’s headmaster, is well cast as a good soul who, now about eighty years old is doing what he can do best for the war effort.
“Summerland” is a woman-centered film bolstered by Gemma Arterton’s role through a variety of emotional storms—heartbroken to lose her lover, fearful of having to give up the boy when his mother is ready to take him back. This is a gentle tale with moments of high drama. filmed by Laurie Rose at Seaford, East Sussex, in England’s south coast.
100 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – B
Technical – B+
Overall – B