On the face of it, Summerland appears to be one of those Sunday teatime British WW2 romantically laced dramas you could sit down with your nan to watch with a cup of tea and a gaffe cake (other biscuits available). Yes, Jessica Swale (the acclaimed play-write) directorial debut does still tick those boxes, but it would be reductive of me to just pigeon hole it like that because, quite frankly, I was thoroughly charmed by it.
Firstly, Gemma Arterton is an absolute star as curmudgeonly lead Alice, a lonesome middle aged woman who has been cast as the village witch by the locals. She begrudgingly takes in a London evacuee (Lucas Bonds’ Frank) and despite several failed attempts to get rid of the poor lad, it soon becomes clear that he’s there to stay as they form an unlikely friendship over chips and folklores. The war is an important aspect of Summerland, but it’s very much a backdrop to the bigger themes of love and loss that surround both Arterton and Bonds’ characters and, with the former’s past with Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s Vera playing an every present reminder of what she’s missed out on, there’s plenty of tender heartstring pulling going on. With some wonderful coastal views to boot, it really does look the part too.
Summerland’s story does hit a few typical genre beats (the easing of tensions and the central tragedy springing to mind), with a twist a more eagle-eyed viewer may catch, but it’s Arterton’s cracking performance – and her characters relationship with Frank – that really warm the soul. I was thoroughly won over by this characterful, heartfelt and – rather romantic – tale. Catch it now on VOD or in cinemas.