Summer in February
- James Mottram
- 14 June 2013
A Downton-esque middlebrow melancholic melodrama starring Emily Browning and Dominic Cooper
The success of Downton Abbey clearly points to the arrival of Summer In February, a middlebrow melancholic melodrama set amongst the real-life Newlyn School artists’ colony in pre-WWI Cornwall. Co-produced by and starring Downton’s Dan Stevens, it’s certainly aiming to reach out for the Sunday night telly crowd – albeit those who won’t be offended by a bit of nudity and hot passions bubbling away under those starched collars.
Dominic Cooper gives a rousing turn as Alfred ‘AJ’ Munnings, the famed painter of horses and avowed anti-modernist (railing against ‘Piss-aco’) who later become President of the Royal Academy of Art. It is he who tutors would-be artist Florence Carter-Wood (Emily Browning), who would also model for him in his famous equestrian painting The Morning Ride. She is soon torn between her feelings for Munnings and for Stevens’ more reserved land manager Gilbert Evans.
Directed by Christopher Menaul, a veteran of television drama including The Forsyte Saga and Prime Suspect, it’s based on a script by Jonathan Smith – who adapted his own novel, inspired by Evans’ own diaries. While the film also gives screen time to another female painter, Laura Knight (played with spirit by Hattie Morahan), who has her own feelings for Munnings, she’s swiftly sidelined in what emerges as a tale about the impossibility of love in the Edwardian era.
With the story handsomely mounted by Menaul (making the best of the Cornish coastline, flush with sunsets and skylines), it doesn’t say anything new about creativity or the artistic struggle. But with Browning – who has a habit of playing traumatised women, after Sleeping Beauty – pouring her heart into her peformance, it’d take a cold soul not to warm to a film that, for all its conventional approach and picture-postcard visuals, proves poignant in the final act.
Limited release from Fri 14 Jun.