Summerland tells a lesbian love story that segues into a tale about how the British protected their children from the Blitz during World War II. You feel the female gaze in this story, which was written and directed by Jessica Swale.
Summerland begins in Kent, in 1975. We see Penelope Wilton as Alice typing away at something. From there we go back in time to see Alice, now played by Gemma Arterton, at the same typewriter. Because children were evacuating London to escape the bombings and sent to homes in the country, I’m guessing Alice at this age lives in about 1940.
A knock on the door and Alice is presented with a boy of 10 or 11, Frank (Lucas Bond), that she is expected to care for. She doesn’t want to be bothered with anything that would interfere with her work, but she agrees to shelter him a few days until someone else can be found. His dad is a pilot in the RAF, his mom works at the Ministry.
Alice has written a number of books that are a scientific analysis of folklore. She’s successful enough to live alone in a big house on a cliff above the famous white cliffs of Dover. She even owns a car.
Frank shows an interest in Alice’s research on “islands in the sky.” Her studies lead her to believe that it’s refracted light creating a mirage in the clouds. They even see one for themselves. You knew they were going to bond somehow, didn’t you?
Alice explains the pagan mythology of Summerland, which is a bit like the Christian idea of heaven. The idea that the images in the clouds and Summerland can bring messages from the great beyond become important later in the story.
It helps that Frank makes a friend at school, Edie (Dixie Egerickx). She’s a feisty little thing, but thinks Alice is a witch like all the other kids. Mr. Sullivan (Tom Courtenay) is very kind to Frank.
While Alice and Frank get acquainted and learn to care about each other, we enter another series of flashbacks. These go back to the late 1920s when Alice fell in love with Vera (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). We see flashes as she remembers the affair.
What we see of the romance is G rated. It’s mostly holding hands and frolicking in meadows. It’s clear the two lived together. Gemma Arterton and Gugu Mbatha-Raw are so good at what they do, the emotional content of their love is clear. Gemma Arterton, in particular, is brilliant at being gobsmacked by her feelings for Vera. Years later during the war, she still grieves over losing Vera as she recalls their time together. Gugu Mbatha-Raw is one of my favorite actors, I wish she had more screen time in this film.
Alice and Frank are tested by some dramatic and dangerous situations. It always helps to have a bit of excitement in a film. Overall, this is a sweet story about love and commitment.
The actors are all excellent, the setting is breathtaking and beautiful. The way director Jessica Swale moves between time periods is smooth and never confusing. This is a warm and lovely film.
The film is available for rent or purchase on Prime Video.
Here’s the trailer.
What do you think of this movie? Do you plan to watch it?