Summerland Parent Guide
War makes for unlikely housemates...
Parent Movie Review
Alice Lamb (Gemma Arterton) is an unpleasant person. Summerland makes that clear from the beginning. She is casually cruel to a child at the grocer’s and treats the villagers in her seaside village with callous disdain. When she is informed that she must billet a child evacuated from war-ravaged London, she protests bitterly before reluctantly letting him in the house. When he asks what’s for dinner she puts raw chicken, egg, and potato on a plate and tells him to cook it himself.
Luckily, Frank (Lucas Bond) is irrepressible, with a zest for living and a sparkling personality. Alice’s feelings gradually soften and she reluctantly begins to enjoy Frank’s cheery enthusiasm, even allowing him to come along as she sets out to prove a theory. Alice is working on a thesis, and her topic is mirages, particularly the complex ones known as Fata Morganas. With Frank in tow, she sets off to a nearby bay in search of these natural optical illusions.
Seeking answers in the clouds feels like a distraction for a woman who’s haunted by images from the past. Years ago, Alice fell wildly in love with Vera (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). After an idyllic interlude, Vera left to pursue her own goals, leaving Alice broken and grieving. Her bitterness and tough practicality come through in her advice to Frank, “Life is not kind. Anguish is inevitable. Your heart will break. Your friends will die. You may even think of killing yourself. What matters is how you deal with it.” Alice has no comforting philosophy or religious belief to counter her bleak assessment of life. Heaven, she believes, is a fairy tale. But she spins Frank a story of Summerland, a pagan belief in a parallel world that surrounds us until it’s disturbed by a departed soul who wants to reach the living.
Obviously, Christian viewers will take issue with Alice’s opinions on religion. Otherwise, it’s difficult to assess the content in this film because it’s subjective. Summerland is the cleanest romantic drama I’ve seen in years with nothing more than yearning looks and brief kisses. Whether that qualifies as major or minor content depends entirely on your views on LGBTQ issues. Adults with contemporary attitudes towards sexuality will probably see this as a tender film about a relationship brought to a premature end. Parents with traditional views of sex will likely be unhappy with a movie that provides a sympathetic look at a lesbian relationship. Other content issues in the movie include minor swearing, brief visual and spoken references to World War II, and a few scenes of adults drinking alcohol.
Frankly, for me there are bigger issues to quibble over in Summerland. The first is the writing. This movie turns on a plot contrivance that was so sentimental and kitschy I’m convinced the movie can cause cavities. Anytime a movie relies on coincidences for its resolution, screenwriters are demonstrating a lack of imagination. Sadly, the lazy narrative arc isn’t the movie’s biggest issue – that honor goes to Alice’s lack of emotional discipline and its effects on Frank. Early on, her brisk cruelty towards a lonely child is hard to watch. Even when she begins to care for Frank, Alice is unable to put his feelings first, to force herself to do hard things for his benefit. At both extremes of their relationship, Alice’s selfishness hurts Frank – and that’s no mirage. Although the story shows that Frank is good for Alice, it’s far from clear that Alice is good for Frank. And shouldn’t a child’s life have a higher priority than serving as the catalyst for an adult’s change of heart?Directed by Jessica Swale. Starring Gemma Arterton, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Penelope Wilton. Running time: 99 minutes. Theatrical release July 31, 2020. Updated August 1, 2020
Watch the trailer for Summerland
Rating & Content Info
Why is Summerland rated PG? Summerland is rated PG by the MPAA for thematic content, some suggestive comments, language, and smoking.
Violence: Mention of potential burns from falling bombs. Two scenes involve children with bloody cuts. A house is shown burning after a bomb detonates. There is mention of casualties of war. Boys push garbage through a woman’s mail slot.
Sexual Content: A girl tells a boy she’ll show him “up her skirt”. A girl mentions witches doing “sex things” to captives. Two women hold hands. A woman is shown in the bathtub from the shoulders up. Two women play “footsie”. Two clothed women are shown in bed; they kiss.
Profanity: There are a handful of terms of deity and mild profanities.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Main character smokes. Main characters drink cocktails at a dance club. A main character drinks alcohol at a stressful time.
Page last updated August 1, 2020
Summerland Parents' Guide
Over two million British children were evacuated during World War II, most to the countryside but some to Commonwealth nations. For more information, follow these links:
The History Press: The Evacuation of Children During the Second World War
The Guardian: Children of the wartime evacuation
Loved this movie? Try these books…
For first person accounts from child evacuees, you can read Julie Summers’ When the Children Came Home: Stories of Wartime Evacuees. Mike Brown also shares their experiences in Evacuees: Evacuation in Wartime Britain 1939-1945. Pam Hobbs shares her family’s wartime evacuation experience in Don’t Forget to Write: The true story of an evacuee and her family.
Wartime evacuation has also been a topic for fiction, especially for young readers. Karen McCombie tells the story of two siblings sent to the countryside in Catching Falling Stars. In The Sky Is Falling, Kit Pearson begins her trilogy about siblings sent to Canada for safety during the war. (Subsequent books in the series are Looking at the Moon and The Lights Go On Again.) C.S. Lewis famously sent the four Pevensies to the countryside and thence to the magical land of Narnia in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Related home video titles:
The four Pevensie siblings are evacuated from London to the countryside during the Blitz. Staying in the Professor’s mysterious house, they find a wardrobe that takes them to a different world. You can watch their adventures in Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
An unwilling young witch winds up hosting three children evacuated to the countrywide during World War II in Bedknobs and Broomsticks.
Even adults who want children can find parenting overwhelming, as one couple discovers when they foster three children in Instant Family.
When her sister and brother-in-law die, a feckless young woman is shocked to discover that she’s now the guardian to her nephew and two nieces. In Raising Helen, she realizes that she’s going to have to grow up if she can raise them.
A young boy’s life is changed when he is adopted by a kindhearted woman and her taciturn husband in A Shine of Rainbows.