Set against the backdrop of the Cornish coast in 1913, Summer In February follows the true story of the Lamorna group of Newlyn Artists. Florence (Emily Browning) arrives in Cornwall to stay with her brother after escaping her overbearing father. She hopes to fulfil her dreams of becoming an artist and is excited to be welcomed into the group who’ve set themselves up on the Lamorna estate.
This includes the poetry spouting, rather wild AJ Munnings (Dominic Cooper). She also meets the quieter land agent, Gilbert Evans (Dan Stevens), who’s in charge of Lamorna. A complex love triangle develops, with Florence charmed by Gilbert but also liking the passion of AJ. However AJ proves to be unpredictable and potentially violent, but Florence may find it difficult to extricate herself from him.
In filmmaking circles it’s often said that ‘less is more’, but it seems that the makers of Summer In February decided that if less is more, it should follow that nothing is everything. Summer In February is so restrained that for large chunks of the first part of the film it feels like nothing is happening. This is the point in the film where we’re supposed to get to know the characters, but they do and say so little of note that we don’t really get to know them beyond a rather bland surface. It gets to the point where for about 45 minutes, instead of having actual drama it has shots of the sea crashing against an obvious metaphor (aka rocks).
By the time things actually begin to happen, it’s difficult to care what’s happening to these people, especially as their often histrionic seeming actions feel like they’ve come out of nowhere. Presumably we’re meant to feel they’ve bottled all these things up so much that they’ve suddenly exploded, but except for Gilbert nobody’s really shown much evidence of being a fully realised person, let alone ones with hidden feelings.
This is particularly true of AJ Munnings, who for most of the early part of the film runs around acting like a total dick, to the point where it’s tough to tell why Florence would think he was worth marrying (indeed everyone’s interactions in the film seem rather dislocated, making it tough to believe the feelings that have apparently built up). Then Munnings stops being a simple dick and becomes a violent, potential rapist dick, but even so these moments feel oddly random rather than an extension of what we’ve seen.
It’s all a little frustrating, as what (eventually) occurs has the potential to make a great movie. Instead the less is more philosophy means it often feels nothing is happening, and that when drama erupts it feels disproportionate and slightly dislocated from what we’ve seen. Assuming most of these events really happened, they happened to fascinating, complex people, but you don’t really get much of a feel for that here. Summer In February works extremely well as advert for the Cornish Tourist board, but as a drama, it’s a bit of a damp squib.
Overall Verdict: The Cornish coastline is fantastic, but unfortunately the crashing waves offer more involving drama than the people, who are so quiet they’re barely there and when drama erupts it’s difficult to either care or understand where it came from.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac