“Stories have to come from somewhere…”
Now more than every, new titles are so frequently dropping on VOD that it’s easy to miss some little gems. Luckily, any Sapphic period piece will be on my radar long before its July 31st release. I am therefore here to tell you about “Summerland.”
The film debut of playwright Jessica Swale stars Gemma Arterton as Alice, a reclusive writer living by the seaside in a small English town during World War 2. A young boy from London named Frank (Lucas Bond) is dropped on her doorstep to live with her while his parents are dealing with the war. While this is at first much to Alice’s chagrin, she slowly warms up to the sweet, perceptive boy as they bond over her work on folklore. (Oh, this missed opportunity to collaborate with Taylor Swift with a promotional music video on this one.)
But Kate, you ask, this doesn’t sound like a lesbian love story at all? The beauty of this film lies in the multiple forms of love explored. I don’t mean to mislead anyone. The main story is definitely Alice and Frank. The romance comes in as Alice is flooded with flashbacks of long lost love Vera (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) from her past. Without giving too much away, the complications that arise in their romantic relationship are not the usual tragedies expected from a usual queer period piece.
Another notable aspect of this film is the way its characters talk about grief, both with adults and with children. Being set during wartime, everyone has lost something. When Alice meets Vera, she is dealing with the death of her father from the First World War. A connection sparks when the usual brushed off remark “It’s okay” is met with, “But it’s not, is it?” Meanwhile, Frank makes a friend at school who has lost her mother and therefore has strong opinions when Frank ends up dealing with a loss of his own, one that Alice tries to keep from him. She does eventually find a way to console him drawing from both her own experience and their shared interest in the afterlives expressed in the folklore they discuss.
Given the heavy subject matter, it’s an incredible achievement that the film still carries a lighthearted, hopeful tone. I pondered with its PG rating if it was meant to be for kids, or could at least be show to them. I see no reason why not. Especially now in these hard times, kids will want to see characters they can relate to that are going through difficult times.
Not that you need a kid to watch this. My cat and I enjoyed it just fine. I definitely cried at the end because I’m a big sap.
“Summerland” is available to rent on VOD on various streaming platforms