Summerland is summer’s first surprise: Movie Review

Summerland is summer’s first surprise: Movie Review
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Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins is the Oakville News publishing assistant and arts reporter. He started with the news in 2016 and now specializes in current and live events, film, theatre and entertainment. He comes from Campbellton, NB and has lived in Oakville more than 20 years. Proud Sheridan grad of Journalism and Performing Arts. Twitter: @MrTyCollins

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Summerland is a quaint story that makes for a pleasant, if somewhat forgettable, film. But the real story isn’t really about the movie at all. It’s about the triumphant return of new release films to the big screen in Oakville.

After more than four months of shutdown, Oakville’s indoor cinemas are finally open once again. It’s going to take some time before we see a swath of new movies, but three are now showing for hungry moviegoers. Two of them are showing exclusively at Film.Ca Cinemas, and the widest release is writer/director Jessica Swale’s Summerland.

Alice Lamb (Gemma Arterton) is a reclusive writer and researcher who lives in Kent, England. It’s early in WWII, and as part of the war effort, she’s asked to care for a young boy: Frank (Lucas Bond) from London.

While his home in the city is unsafe, they reluctantly bond over Alice’s work writing about the science in mythology. Her current project? Discovering the truth behind an invisible castle called “Summerland.”

This is Swale’s debut as both screenwriter and director, following her nearly 20-year career as a playwright and stage director in London. Her experience in theatre has influenced her style of searingly human drama as a storyteller.

But she also has a deft, insightful hand at where to put the camera. The cinematography showcasing Kent and the ocean are as striking as the nuanced close-ups of the four principal characters.

Photo: Lionsgate and Level Film

Her next step would be translating that same nuance and subtlety into her screenplays. That tightrope is different on screen than on stage – and writing for them is very different.

The story takes a few seriously surprising turns, and Swale attempts some pretty dramatic twists for what seems to be a small-scale, naturalistic film. Some of them work, and only really doesn’t. The commonality is they all feel sappy.

Less pining sentiment in the editing, music and setting would’ve helped balance the story better. I agree that we need a splash of brightness, and the Alice’s moment discovering Summerland is well-earned. But brightness and sappiness are not the same thing.

It’s hard to give explain more without leading on to the film’s ending. It is worth nothing Swale has worked with Arterton and Gugu Mbatha-Raw (as Vera, the film’s best performance) before. Past projects with her cast has clearly fostered a better movie today.

Swale’s new film is, amazingly, the widest new release in the world this weekend. Perhaps this is a silver lining in the ongoing pandemic, allowing what could’ve been a small movie to have its small chance at standing out.

Big screen movies are back. That alone is a great reason to go out and see Summerland this week. Yes, the film is enjoyable enough. But best of all, it’s new.

6 out of 10

PG, 1hr 40mins. Drama.
Written and Directed by Jessica Swale.
Starring Gemma Arterton, Lucas Bond, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Dixie Egerickx and Tom Courtenay.
Now Playing at Film.Ca Cinemas.


Finally, if you’re looking for something different, the majestic Brotherhood is the other new release at Film.Ca Cinemas this weekend. It’s an expertly made Canadian film and also a good choice for your first visit back to the movies.

Read more reviews and entertainment news @MrTyCollins on Facebook and Twitter.


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