Summerland (PG) - 99 minutes
A well-meaning but slight portrait of war-time suffering, Summerland feels manufactured throughout.
In spite of the subject matter, what is missing is gravitas and authenticity.
We’re in Kent in south-eastern England in 1975 and during the London Blitz of 1940/41.
Alice Lamb (Gemma Arterton) is an avid researcher and writer. She analyses folk lore.
Amongst her small community she is known to be harsh and curmudgeonly.
She cares not for idle chit chat and pleasantries.
Rather, she is a loner, totally absorbed in and by her work.
Children take pleasure in running past her home and antagonising her by dropping stones and sticks into her letterbox.
So it is that she doesn’t see an official letter, which advises her she will be taking in an “evacuee” from London, whose parents are caught up in the war effort.
A youngster, named Frank (Lucas Bond), simply turns up on her doorstep one day with an official.
Alice is horrified and keen not to take him.
Most reluctantly, she agrees to shelter and feed him for a week ... until he is rehoused.
Frank is a curious, intelligent kid, who is particularly proud of his father, who’s a pilot.
So it is that Frank enjoys making and playing with toy planes.
Alice only wants him to stay out of her way, but the gulf between them gradually thaws as Frank shows interest in her work.
At the same time, Alice is prone to reflecting upon the past love of her life, harking back to the 1920s.
It’s an image she can’t get out of her head.
Before this is over, Alice’s past and present will intersect.
Frank, meanwhile, befriends the girl, Edie (Dixie Egerickx), who he is partnered with at school.
With so much at play here, Summerland had the potential to be something special.
As it is, it is pleasant – and notwithstanding some dark moments – lightweight fare.
That is due primarily to the script and direction by Jessica Swale, who fails to make the most of the basic premise in her feature directorial debut.
Instead, she goes for “nice” characterisations, without the depth or substance I was looking for.
More often than not she makes obvious choices, save for one “gotcha” moment two thirds of the way through the film that sets up the conclusion.
Too frequently levity becomes her fallback position when my preference for the whole shebang would have been serious drama.
As a result, the principal and secondary actors mainly work within a narrow band, notwithstanding their capabilities of producing more.
Gemma Arterton has a bit more latitude, though I didn’t “believe” the character she was playing, rather I thought it was put on.
Alice was either exaggeratedly surly, bothered and time poor, ready to speak in reverential terms about mythology or suddenly able to let down her guard.
Overall, the compromises made for the sake of trying to woo an audience were far too great for my liking.
In short, Summerland is bland.
Rated PG and also starring Gugu Mbatha Raw and Tom Courtenay it scores a 5½ out of 10.