Are we starved of beautiful lesbian dramas and romances? Possible. However, Summerland could be the meal we so richly deserve, gloriously bringing together two of the UK’s best actresses – Gemma Arterton and Gugu Mbatha-Raw in a hazy, summer period romp.
Directed and written by Jessica Swale, Summerland revolves around curmudgeon faction writer Alice, who tries to dispel myths and magic with her work. Although it opens on her in the 1970s, huffily answering the door to nearby children, the movie then flashes back to Alice during WW2. Though ostracised as “the witch on the beach” by the rest of the village, Alice finds herself unwillingly saddled with a young evacuee from London called Frank. However, the longer Frank stays there, the soon the pair start to bond and the young boy starts to unravel some secrets that Alice had kept locked away.
This summertime movie on the cliffs of Dover is a twee exploration of the 1940s. It’s nice and charming like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It does show some of the war stuff and, naturally, there is some predictable grief, but it is a cosy home-knitted jumper version of the horrific time where there were bombs, death, and, you know, a war. Still, this quaint movie is beautifully filmed and has an impressive score from Volker Bertelmann.
Gemma Arterton is a passionate actress who knows how to layer her characters. She has always been intense to watching, keeping brooding emotions and thoughts under the surface. There is a beautiful unravelling to Alice who starts the film riling up the village population, so much so that children leave sticks and dirt in her letterbox. As the film progresses, Arterton lets slip this secret turbulent heart of wonder and love that comes alive thanks to Frank (played exceptionally by newcomer Lucas Bond.) Arterton is a glorious performer and she is impeccable here.
Sadly, it doesn’t bode well for Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Alice’s estranged lover Eve. Told through further flash backs, Swale does well to showcase the leading pairs’ intense passion and love. However, using the ‘flashback-within-a-flashback’ technique to piece together Alice’s bigger picture means Mbatha-Raw, undeniably one of the best actresses working at the moment (see: Fast Color,) has minimal scenes for a film that boasts her in every single marketing material.
For some, these little snippets will not convince you of their relationship nor is it enough lesbian content for anyone hankering for wartime Sapphics. Yet the chemistry between Arterton and Mbatha-Raw is palpable, especially during scenes of secret field trysts or heart-racing car trips.
Perhaps it is because we are so starved of successful and lovely lesbian-led dramas that one finds themselves clinging onto this movie for dear life. Perhaps it’s because have been so starved of loveliness lately that Summerland is just the film we need. Perhaps it is genuine and kind but with an unruly nature, much like the lead character herself. Perhaps.
But Summerland is not without its misses or merits, it is a soothing balm to watch in cinemas.
Summerland is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now!