As a romantic period drama about the relationships between famous painters, Summer In February is a different choice of film amongst the current line up of summer blockbusters. But that’s not necessarily a good thing.
Adapted by Jonathan Smith from his 1996 novel of the same name, it tells the (supposedly) true story of painter Alfred ‘A.J’ Munnings (Dominic Cooper) who was famous for painting horses, being president of The Royal Academy of Art and publicly blasting the modernist movement. In much the same way that Tolkein nerds slam the Peter Jackson films. He resides in the beautiful seaside village Lamorna in Cornwall and is the leader of a group of boho artists called the Lamorna group. They are joined on a dark and stormy night by up-and-coming young artist Florence Carter-Wood (Emily Browning) and playboy Munnings instantly decides that he wants to tap that. A love triangle develops between the two of them and soldier Gilbert Evans (Dan Stevens). In typical Edwardian fashion, Florence becomes engaged to A.J after about three dates, but has she picked the right man? Of course she hasn’t, this is a love triangle, after all.
As a lover of art, I was expecting to enjoy this film. The opening scenes of the Lamorna group all hanging out, reading Edgar Allen Poe and basically acting like the 1910’s equivalent of hipsters were really the only parts I liked. If the film had just been an exploration of this group of artists, I might have actually enjoyed it. But the love story we get instead falls completely flat. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before in a love triangle story. Somehow it manages to be both completely boring and overly melodramatic, particularly the female lead seemingly deciding that the only solution to her problems is to kill herself. Feels a tad too close to Bella Swan, doesn’t it?
Yes, circumstances for women were very different at the time. They didn’t have a whole lot of choice over their lives. But they make the point that Florence is part of a ‘boho’ group so maybe these issues shouldn’t matter as much to her. It’s not impossible to write strong, relatable female characters in historical fiction either. Mary Hopper’s At the Sign of the Sugared Plum is about a pair of female business owners in 1665 and Cold Mountain is primarily about a pair of women surviving together during the American civil war.
The film is beautifully shot on location in Cornwall, including Lamorna itself. Some of the locations were also used in Ladies in Lavender, which you may remember as a period drama that doesn’t suck. What is particularly impressive is that the film was mainly shot during winter, including a scene where some characters strip naked and go swimming in the sea.
If you’re an artist, the scenery shots will likely make you want to go out there and paint. If just to get out of watching the film.
The acting isn’t bad, but neither is it really spectacular. It probably stems from the film’s main problem – The script is so dry that there isn’t much for the actors to go with. At first, you can sort of understand why Florence would pick A.J over Gilbert, because Dominic Cooper is the only one who shows any real personality, even if it is a complete jerkass.
Overall, it feels like the kind of film you’d watch on a drizzly Sunday afternoon while falling asleep after a heavy lunch. Hardcore romantics may see something in it, and fashion nuts will probably enjoy the period costumes, but for everyone else it’ll be either too boring or too overemotional. (Did no one think to keep the poison away from Florence?!)
Cloud verdict – 3/10.