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Movie Review

Summer in February

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Director: Christopher Menaul

Starring: Dominic Cooper, Emily Browning, Dan Stevens

Duration: 100 minutes

Certificate 15A

1 of 5 Summer in February stars Emily Browning and Dan Stevens, who played Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey
Summer in February stars Emily Browning and Dan Stevens, who played Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey
2 of 5 Florence and Gilbert - love in a cold climate
Florence and Gilbert - love in a cold climate
3 of 5 Rocky love triangle by a rocky inlet in Cornwall
Rocky love triangle by a rocky inlet in Cornwall
4 of 5 Best friends, AJ Munning (Dominic Cooper) and Gilbert Evans (Dan Stevens)
Best friends, AJ Munning (Dominic Cooper) and Gilbert Evans (Dan Stevens)
5 of 5 AJ Munning (Dominic Cooper) and Florence (Emily Browning) - fatal love triangle alert
AJ Munning (Dominic Cooper) and Florence (Emily Browning) - fatal love triangle alert

Summer in February will certainly not suffer from the presence among its three lead actors of Dan Stevens who played Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey. That’s a selling point - and boy does it need one - for this worthy piece of unashamed melodrama based on Jonathan Smith’s novel of the same name.

That novel has been republished 11 times since 1996, so we are talking a popular work of fiction, based on true events involving the bohemian Lamorna Group, ensconced in a pretty coastal village in Cornwall, the year 1913.

The group includes the chrismatic artist with working class roots, the impulsive but charming Alfred or AJ Munnings, who is played here by Dominic Cooper (The Devil’s Double, My Week With Marilyn.) 100 years on since the time period of this film, Munnings' paintings, incidentally, are now extrememly valuable.

Author Jonathan Smith may be the man responsible for the novel, but you keep thinking Mills and Boon and Catherine Cookson. For if there were bodices to be ripped, they would be ripped soundly (fortunately, the Edwardians had moved on from that class of thing.)

So instead of ripped bodices, you get moody shots of rocky wintry Cornish coast and cove, nocturnal darkness in the lanes, rearing horses, thunderclaps and lightning, lots of soft lamplight. The perfect backdrop, in other words, for stormy passion. Or, if you like, The perfect setting for a passable, if yawn-inducing Sunday night drama series on ITV.

So, England is on the brink of war and the artists are living in rather smug snugness on the Lamorna estate. They rent houses and studios, they party, they drink, they ride horses, they paint each other’s portraits (and, eh, they look far too healthy for people in 1913.)

One night a mentally unstable young art student Florence Carter-Wood (Emily Browning) arrives dramatically in the middle of one of their lively social gatherings. Something of a femme fatale, Florence falls for two men, both best friends. These are Gilbert Evans, the genial soldier and land agent in charge of the Lamorna Valley estate (Stevens).

She also falls for the afirementioned AJ Munnings, setting the scene for a fatal love triangle. Summer in February is fast-paced, built around short scenes and there’s not much done in silence because Benjamin’s Wallfisch’s score comes in on the De Maurier tide every time there’s a shot of another rocky inlet.

Did the music even stop when that free-spirited artist’s model Dolly (Mia Austen) cavorted nude in the waves? Simply can’t recall.

Paddy Kehoe


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