Tuesday, 18 February 2014
'Summer in February'
With high winds and lashing rain on Saturday we decided to stay at home and watch a movie, and what better choice than 'Summer in February'. Well it is February, and summer has an enticing ring to it.
I read Jonathan Smith's novel when it was published in the mid 1990's and somehow the film had ducked under my radar so I missed it at the cinema. The story is about love and loss among a bohemian colony of artists which flourished in the fishing village of Lamorna on the wild west coast of Cornwall before the First World War. This group of artists became known as the Lamorna Group, as part of the later Newlyn School they included S J "Lamorna" Birch, Harold and Laura Knight (later Dame Laura Knight) and A J Munnings (later Sir Alfred Munnings). The music score is especially memorable, composed by Benjamin Wallfisch it is classic, romantic and sweeping with soaring strings giving a sense of loss and yearning.
The narrative of Summer in February is told from the viewpoint of Captain Gilbert Evans (played by Dan Stevens of Downton Abbey fame), a respected and popular local land agent who kept diaries of his time in Lamorna. He was a close friend of Munnings (Dominic Cooper) and is devastated when the beautiful Florence Carter Wood (Emily Browning) accepts AJ's proposal of marriage. Gilbert is secretly in love with the fragile and ethereal Florence and bitterly regrets his hesitation in declaring his love for her. Florence has arrived in Cornwall after fleeing her middle-class background in London with dreams of becoming an artist. She joins her brother Joey Carter Wood and soon becomes part of the group, both artistically and socially (most famously with late-night revelry at The Wink pub) but her work is sidelined when she begins sitting for Munnings and falls under his spell. The excitement and freedom she craves is hers, for a while.
Friends can see the couple are ill-matched. Florence is swept away by the charismatic Munnings whom she sees as a genius, and he in turn is mesmerised by her beauty. However, beneath the easy-going charm Munnings could be cruel and insensitive and it's intimated the marriage was never consummated. Despite her beauty Florence was introverted and prone to depression; this fragility comes across with great poignancy in the film and she is portrayed as having attempted suicide by poison on her wedding day.
She and Gilbert become friends and confidants and they would take long walks together along the wild and beautiful cliffs, and it was one of these occasions, described in his diary as taking place on a 'summer's day' but dated in February which inspired the title for the book. So the inevitable happens and the pair fall deeply in love, but its difficult for them both and Gilbert feels terrible guilt at the situation. In early 1914 he resigns from his position in Lamorna and joins the colonial service in Nigeria. He cannot handle the betrayal any longer and feels that AJ and Florence should be left alone to work at their marriage.
In the book there is a lovely passage where Gilbert and Florence have lunch at the Trocadero Restaurant in Piccadilly Circus and afterwards she accompanies him to Paddington Station, where they say their goodbyes. Gilbert's diary continues the narrative: 'I went to the train alone and very sad.' Later, he added: 'this was the last time I saw her alive.' In the film they share a romantic evening in Florence's cabin on the cliffs and she becomes pregnant with his child.
Florence is left bereft at Gilbert's departure and unable to bear her husband's cruel and dismissive attitude towards her, she commits suicide on 24 July 1914. A few weeks later Gilbert Evans received the news in Nigeria. By September that year Britain was plunged into war with Germany ....
I enjoyed the film and it was certainly well played and deeply moving, but overall I preferred the book and may revisit it once again.
You can find out more about the artists of the Newlyn School here.