By: Lana K. Wilson-Combs
Olivier Award-winning British playwright Jessica Swale
(“Blue Stockings”) makes her directorial debut with the British period drama, “Summerland.”
The movie, which Swale also wrote takes place against the backdrop of World War II and lures you in with its compelling story and top notch cast.
Gemma Arterton (“How to Build A Girl”) plays an ornery writer named Alice Bloom. Penelope Wilton (TV’s “After Life”) plays her older version. Alice lives alone in a quaint town on the southeast coast of England. She enjoys the peace and quiet which allows her to crank out work about folklore on her old, trusted typewriter.
Alice’s tranquility is sometimes interrupted by a handful of bratty children who taunt her and do other childish pranks like fill her mailbox with garbage. Alice has quite a temper and I’m certain if she ever caught one of those kids, it wouldn’t end well for them.
Kids have never really been Alice’s thing. There is a scene when she’s at a local store and some poor kids are there. She buys a candy bar, and everyone thinks Alice is going to give it to this kid, but she buys it for herself and chomps on it right in front of them instead.
So, you can imagine Alice’s surprise when she opens her front door one day and is greeted by an older woman and a young London schoolboy named Frank (Lucas Bond, TV’s “Of Kings and Prophets” and TV's "The Alienist"). The woman tells Alice that she must temporarily adopt the kid while his father is serving in the war and his mother must work in London.
Naturally, Alice wants no part of caring for this boy, but realizes she doesn’t have a choice. Consequently, she makes poor Frank feel less than welcome.
That doesn’t last for long as Frank is wiser beyond his years. He makes friends easily at school with Edie (Dixie Egerickx, “The Secret Garden”) who is just as feisty and sharp as he is and Frank somehow manages to finagle his way into Alice’s cold heart and soon they begin to warm up to each other.
Through Frank we discover that much of Alice’s bitterness over the years stems from a romantic affair she had with her close friend Vera (a limited Gugu Mbatha-Raw, “Motherless Brooklyn,” “Belle” and “Beyond the Lights”). Vera apparently decided the social and political pressure was perhaps too much—it’s the 1940’s after all-- and that she wanted a husband, kids and a traditional family instead.
When Alice reminisces about her time with Vera, we see them together through these striking flashbacks and they are younger and seemingly happier.
“Summerland” doesn’t linger on their interracial affair, as Swale strikes a nice balance with that angle but doesn’t overshadow the sincere and heartwarming mother and son type relationship that blossoms between Frank and Alice.
However, it's “Summerland’s” final act that seals the deal and will throw you for a loop. It’s a real eye-opener and makes “Summerland” a nice and surprising summer treat.
“Summerland” is available on VOD July 31.
Check Out This Trailer For "SUMMERLAND"
Lana K. Wilson-Combs is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics’ Association (BFCA), The Black Film Critics Circle (BFCC), The Alliance Of Women Film Journalists (AWFJ) and a Nominating Committee Voting Member for the NAACP Image Awards.