Summerland (2020) Analysis – Better to Love a Woman than Marrying Someone You Don’t Like

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In a coastal village in Kent, a woman (Penelope Wilton), somewhere around her late middle ages is trying to write something on her typewriter, when she gets bothered by a knock on her door, to find two children. She hushes them off impudently.

We go back in time, almost 30 years,  in the period when world war II was at its peak, and find the same women on her typewriter, a little youthful but bearing the same impudence on her face. Her name is Alice Lamb (Gemma Arterton) and it is made very clear from the start that she is not very amiable or sociable. Her independent and secluded lifestyle, accompanied by a brash behaviour, does not go well amidst the people in the society. There are rumours and suspicions about her among the people of the compact coastal village. Her tactless mannerisms are credited to a lesbian relationship she shared with a girl named Vera (Gugu Mbatha Raw) that was put to a coerced end as Vera wanted a “respectable” lifestyle which included having kids. Things start to change in an organic manner when a boy named Frank is sent to live with Alice and being an evacuee from London, he needs foster care till it is the same for him.


The Characterization

Through Summerland, Gemma Arterton brings a very attractive bohemian outlook to the character of Alice Lamb. Even when she is at her impertinent best, you know that the cause for such a behaviour is some deeply embedded emotional scar. So you just cannot write her off as a “bad person” instead you get attached to her emotional vulnerabilities and root for her. Gemma Arterton gives an earnest and top-notch performance, doing most of the heavy lifting in the film, also breaking the stereotypical image that people had of her as a commercial actress.

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The charm of Gugu Mbatha Raw increases every time you see her on-screen. Though her onscreen presence is limited to a few scenes, still she leaves a lasting impact.  

The two child actors, Lucas Bond playing Frank and Dixie Egerickx playing Edie, have done a brilliant job imbibing their characters. They are adorable to watch and the range of emotions they have put on display, makes you marvel at their craft. For actors like Tom Courtney, the length of the role is never directly proportional to the impact they leave by their performance. He plays the indulgent headmaster named Mr Sullivan.


Summerland – The Invisible Layer

The first time director Jessica Swale has neatly tied the vulnerabilities of people during the period of war and presented it in a picturesque wrapping of an emotionally saturated screenplay. At times the screenplay and the Mise-en-scène feels too decorated and too good to be true. This is the reason that there are a few moments where one feels being pushed away from the realistic realms. The story also adopts an approach that seems to be convenient in nature, so as to complete a full circle. But these are minor glitches in the feast of emotions the director has given us to devour.

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Jessica Swale gives us one of the best scenes in the film where Alice and Frank are having a conversation and Frank out of sheer innocence asks her if the person she loved was a woman. Alice opens up about her lesbian relationship and how society regards it as a sin. Frank in his impeccable manner asks Alice “isn’t it better to love a woman rather than marrying someone you don’t like?” It melts her down and makes her realize the hypocrisy and ingenuity of the world around her.

Swale has tacked the screenplay with some beautiful conversations between Alice and Frank, and their relationship forms the core of the film. Alice tells Frank about her work on the investigation of the phenomenon in which people saw islands floating above the sea, and how an unscientific temper leads to the creation of certain baseless folklore about the same. But then as it is said in the film

“Every story has to come from Somewhere”


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Summerland written and directed by Jessica Swale is a 2020 British drama film. It is available on VOD for now.

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Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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