REVIEW: ‘Summerland’ slumps after strong start, but still good overall

Being the guardian of a child seems like enough work as it is. This movie throws a world war into the mix, too, so no wonder the main character is stressed.

“Summerland” takes place during World War II as the Battle of Britain is going on. Because London is being bombarded, children, including a young boy named Frank (Lucas Bond), are sent to live in the English countryside.

Upon arrival, the government places Frank with Alice (Gemma Arterton), a writer and researcher of mythical literature. Alice isn’t sociable and doesn’t like kids all that much. However, as time goes on Alice becomes more of a mentor and true guardian for Frank.

The concept of a rough-around-the-edges character having to become a parental figure on the fly isn’t exactly a new concept. Hell, it made its way into the comic book genre with “Logan.” While it can make a story a bit more predictable since it’s common, when executed well, this can really work.

That’s the case here in “Summerland.” The movie starts off remarkably well. The film shows both Alice becoming more open to being a guardian and mentor, as well as digging more into her passion related to her work.

Additionally, the movie fits in some well placed flashbacks which shows a relationship Alice had that ended in heartbreak. All together it makes Alice a well rounded, interesting character, and the audience can understand why she took a sort of break from human connections.

Courtesy British Film Institute, Embankment Films, Lionsgate UK and IFC Films.

Also benefiting the film is how it explores Frank becoming more interested in the fables and mythology Alice studies. It not only builds the relationship, but also adds a sort of whimsical feeling to the movie, helping it become more charming.

That is all true for the first half. Unfortunately, things derail a bit in the second. It’s seriously disappointing because this film was in top 10 of the year category for a while.

There’s a reveal that takes place later in the movie that really alters Alice’s character arc and her guardianship of Frank in a detrimental way. The direction the movie takes when it gets to its climactic moments also feels rather contrived.

What’s introduced later in the movie, especially in the third act, hurts the parental relationship that is at the core of the whole movie. The story becomes emotionally manipulative to a degree and it makes the things feel less natural and realistic.

While it seems like these aspects cause the movie to completely crash and burn, though, that’s not really the case. These aspect don’t cause the whole movie to collapse, but it does drag the movie down from what was great to just good.

One thing constantly great from start to finish is the performance from Gemma Arterton. The BAFTA nominee is phenomenal here, providing a layered performance. She convincingly bring’s the character’s frustrations and passions to the screen,and Alice becomes an endearing person to follow because of it.

Supporting cast members Lucas Bond, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Tom Courtenay are also really good here and round out the acting team nicely. They’re effective in their roles, but it’s still Arterton who steals the show mostly.

Credit also has to go to the cinematography, set design and costuming here, because the WWII period is brought to life really well, enhancing the viewing experience.

“Summerland” has a lot to offer to an audience. Good performances, technically sound, and some heartwarming moments. However, some narrative choices here really undercuts some important aspects. 3.75 out of 5.


Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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