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.
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16 comments:

  1. Dear Jeanne,

    I am so glad to see your blog posts appearing in my newsfeed again. 'Summer In February' certainly seems to be my kind of film. Thank you so much for sharing your opinion of it; it sounds most enticing.

    Stephanie

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    1. We were very fortunate to be snug at home on such a wet and windy day watching a movie; my heart goes out to the folk flooded in the awful weather last week ...

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  2. I liked this book very much must look out for the film. I don't think I've seen a film yet adapted from a book where the book isn't better.

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    1. I agree Debbie, although one exception that springs to mind is the film adaptation of The English Patient which I thought was excellent.

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  3. I haven't read the book Jeanne, but I found the film thought provoking and beautiful, although ultimately dreadfully sad. This has made me want to watch it again - thankyou.

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    1. Lovely to see you over here Emma. As you can see i've taken up the blogging baton once again! Good to see that you are so busy and doing well with your teaching and writing. I hope you will be having your Open Studio again this summer ... just saying the word 'summer' cheers me up!

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  4. I recently read this book and really enjoyed it and though it is very sad it is beautifully written. I missed the film when it came to the uni arts cinema last year as it only showed for a couple of days. When I wrote a post about the book a few people said that the film wasn't as good as the book or that they were disappointed in it so I was wary of buying the DVD but after reading your review of the film I think I may purchase it as I would still like to see it:)

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    1. I much preferred the book Rosie but the film is very watchable with gorgeous young actors and a beautiful soundtrack, so there is something to be had there!

      Like Debbie above I'm often disappointed with film adaptations and I must admit I was surprised to learn that the screenplay of Summer in February was written by the author himself.

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  5. I am so happy to see a blog post from you, Jeanne!! :) Do you know, now.... I was once afraid of poetry - like it was joke that was going over my head. I was afraid that I wouldn't understand it. But, in a big part, because of you (and me finding spunk in my life! ;) ) I decided that it doesn't matter - I'll take it how it washes over me and bring my own interpretation!!

    THEN, I decided that on my daily walk (which disappeared, very sadly, this year), I would memorize poetry. So, alright, I only memorized five (I think) poems! ;) But it was fascinating... as I was memorizing them, I started to observe how one little word - if I got one little, seemingly inconsequential, word wrong - it, quite often, would completely change what the poet was saying. And, oh, my.... how the poem would change as I would spend time with it!

    I love words so much - I love mood and emotions - I love expression - I love going into the altered or new world that a creative can make! All this to say, I've always loved poetry but stood aloof and you brought me to it! :) Thank you!!

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    1. Thank you for your lovely comment Katy! I'm very impressed that you memorise poems on your daily walk, nature and poetry do seem to go together like a hand in a glove - now who said that I wonder:-)

      I'm glad to be of service! Oh, and I'm so happy to see you too! Look forward to reading more of your garden plans this year.

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  6. Ack! Alright, I tried to preview my comment but, then, I couldn't read it and I couldn't get back into edit mode. So, there you go... my comment - odd typos and all!

    Anyhoo! The movie sounds lovely (tragedy and all! ;) ) But, it's that tragedy in a book that I'll avoid - too drawn out! I get all moody and depressed! ;)

    Hope all is well and happy with you and yours! I can only imagine that the first spring flowers and bulbs are coming up. We are buried deeply in snow, as per usual. =)

    xxo

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  7. I've done that so many times!

    In that case, you would love the film adaptation Katy; the music is wonderful.

    Yes, I have lots of very pretty snowdrops and crocuses coming up. Sort of envious of your snow (I know!) cos' it always looks so magnificent and ever so cosy! xx

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  8. I have just bought this film It sounds beautiful..I used to live in Cornwall and knew Newlyn and Lamorna Cove very well..(alas the flooding has hit them very hard )
    I am looking forward to watching it
    Thank you for sharing
    Thea x

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    1. Its always been a dream of mine to live in Cornwall, i've had so many wonderful holidays there. But the weather, as proved this past month, can be very challenging indeed. When the sun shines however, there is no better place. You will enjoy the film very much I think!

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  9. It's on my "to see" list as of right now!

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  10. I have added to my lovefilm, list!

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Thank you for taking the time to visit my blog and for indulging me in my musings. I enjoy reading your comments and will reply, time and tide permitting, on this page... at some juncture ... which may be several days later ... oh to have more time to blog!

I love to visit you in return also.

Jeanne
x

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