Review: 'Summerland' tells soft tale that aims for heart

Gemma Arterton stars in British WWII-era tale

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

A reclusive, cantankerous writer opens her home to a young boy in "Summerland." Will he get her to open her heart, too? It's as sure a bet as a character in this British drama dismissing another with a curt "bugger off."  

Writer-director Jessica Swale makes up in sweetness what her tale lacks in surprises. "Summerland" goes where you expect it to with few detours on the way, but its performances and its overall air of grace carry it over its well-worn storytelling humps. 

Gemma Arterton in "Summerland."

Gemma Arterton is Alice, a writer in a small town town in Kent who keeps to herself and is taunted by local children for her hermit-like ways. She just wants to be alone with her typewriter and her memories of her long lost lover, Vera (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the last person to whom she was able to open up. 

It's WWII, and as part of the war effort, children are evacuated from London where conditions are unsafe. One day Frank (Lucas Bond), a young schoolboy, is sent to live with Alice, and Alice reluctantly agrees to take him in, just for a week or so. They clash at first — he's full of wonder while she's hardened and tough — but eventually he wears her down and she allows herself to feel again. 

The story takes a turn in its final third that stretches it well past the point of plausibility, but this is a story aiming for the gut, not the mind. 

The period setting and Laurie Rose's lovely photography give "Summerland" a warm glow, and Arterton and Bond lend the story the heart it needs, even as the story trudges familiar ground. The movie eventually finds its summerland, its happy place, its version of heaven. It will take you there, too, if you allow it.




Rated PG: for thematic content, some suggestive comments, language, and smoking

Running time: 100 minutes