Gemma Arterton Gugu Mbatha-Raw Lucas Bond Penelope Wilton Tom Courtenay Dixie Egerickx
The film is immediately engaging in telling a war story about displaced children and those sheltering them when London was under siege in WWII. Alice (Arterton) is one of the shelterers, although one initially rejecting the idea and agreeing to do it only for a week until another home can be found. Alice is a writer who jealously guards her time, and is known as the local witch because of her acerbic personality and avoidance of friends or even friendly chats at the grocery store.
What happens is that the child assigned to her, Frank (Bond), manages to worm his way into her heart, as most children will eventually. When Alice discovers that Frank can actually be interested in her work as a researcher studying mythology, a bond is formed that takes Alice completely by surprise. But the moments of joy and understanding will soon be interrupted and seriously threatened.
One of the elements that makes the story so appealing is the attractiveness of the two main characters, played by Gemma Arterton and Lucas Bond. Even when they’re first becoming acquainted, the actors are able to convey a special kind of connection that makes the story even more meaningful by the end. Arterton is skillful in portraying the prickliness of Alice at first, and then her gradual transition into someone more “normal.” Bond is a natural in playing a child who is reacting to trauma, but has a firm base of security coming from a good home with caring parents.
Tom Courteney as head of the local school and Dixie Egerickx as Philip’s classmate and friend both give delightful performances that lighten the, sometimes heavy, drama unfolding. The part played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw is primarily in flashbacks that fill us in on Alice’s history, and she also provides levity and depth of character.
Writer/director Jessica Swale does a fine job in flashbacks that make Alice in particular, with her quirky characteristics, believable. The story she tells is fanciful—too implausible perhaps for some—but I think the information given toward the very end made it all come together and be more plausible, although still a bit unlikely to some extent. Swale’s writing is beautiful with memorable lines such as, “Planes crash, Frank; what matters is how you deal with it.” Some of its power is in it serving as a theme for the movie as a whole, along with another apt saying that “stories have to come from somewhere.”
Summerland has much appeal, particularly for the time we are living in; but it is a story with richness and depth in characterization as well.
A good summertime movie to counteract some of the stress of current times.