Summer in February: Film Review
Dan Stevens plays romantic rival to a temperamental painter (Dominic Cooper) wooing the new girl in town.
Downton Abbey fans suffering from Matthew Crawley withdrawal are the main commercial hope for Christopher Menaul's Summer in February, an attractive but inert bit of Anglophilia revolving around the life of real-life painter A.J. Munnings and the community of artists in Cornwall he inhabited. As off-duty military man Gilbert Evans, Dan Stevens plays second fiddle to Dominic Cooper's Munnings, getting the bulk of the film's sympathy while being forced to pretend his rival possesses a charisma that never makes it to the screen. Commercial prospects are dim, and Stevens will need to make the most of upcoming roles in Tom McCarthy's The Cobbler and the third Night in the Museum movie if he hopes to translate small-screen stardom into a film career.
Emily Browning plays rose-cheeked Florence Carter-Wood, who has just moved to Cornwall to escape the suitor her upper-crust father intends her to marry. Here she finds a bohemia of relaxed morals (the local model gets naked for everyone, it seems) and stunning seaside landscapes. But while sincere, slightly milquetoasty Gilbert engages in a polite courtship of the newcomer, Emily seems somehow preordained to wind up with A.J..
Why? Neither Emily nor the film seems to know. Cooper offers more sulky posturing than bottled-up passion; Munnings's neighbors call him a genius and sit enthralled as he recites "The Raven" and other poems in the pub, but his dramatic gifts are as slim as his paintings are (to today's eyes) staid. Jonathan Smith's screenplay (based on his own novel) stumbles badly in establishing this romantic triangle, offering neither heat nor drama in the badly paced scenes leading up to (spoiler alert) Emily's marriage to A.J.
Things pick up a bit after this late point, with button-pushing melodrama offering romance where the script fails to find credible motivations. (Why did Emily marry A.J. if she has no intention of sleeping with him? Why does A.J. insist on exhibiting a painting that embarrasses her, when it doesn't even highlight his strengths as a painter of equestrian action?)
While he's unable to get the best out of his actors, Menaul knows he can always cut back to thunderous waves hitting rocks in the sea. Viewers who've misplaced their Merchant Ivory DVDs can amuse themselves with these scenic diversions, and with the design department's capable recreation of pre-WWI English living.
Production Companies: Crossday, Apart Films
Cast: Dominic Cooper, Dan Stevens, Emily Browning, Hattie Morahan, Shaun Dingwall, Max Deacon, Mia Austen, Nicholas Farrell, Michael Maloney
Director: Christopher Menaul
Screenwriter: Jonathan Smith
Producers: Jeremy Cowdrey, Janette Day, Pippa Cross, Dan Stevens
Executive producers: Bruno Wu, Stephen Henderson
Director of photography: Andrew Dunn
Production designer: Sophie Becher
Music: Benjamin Wallfisch
Costume designer: Nic Ede
Editors: Chris Gill, St. John O'Rorke
No rating, 100 minutes