“Summerland” might look like something you’ve seen before: A scenic story about a schoolchild who must leave London during the war and take up shelter with a reluctant caregiver.
But while it is comfortingly familiar in many ways, and a little cliche and overwrought in others, it also has a modern edge and bite to it that keeps it novel enough to sustain interest.
That modernity is a credit to writer-director Jessica Swale, a British theater director and playwright, who with “Summerland” makes a noteworthy entry into the world of film. With well-drawn characters and a surprising scope, the story feels like it’s been adapted from a novel (a compliment).
And along with cinematographer Laurie Rose, “Summerland” captures three eras in a small seaside town with breathtaking beauty.
The film opens in the 1970s on Alice Lamb (Penelope Wilton), scolding some local children for interrupting her work. Alice has not just aged into a person who is unsympathetic to children, though.
“Summerland” quickly cuts back some 30 years to Alice (now Gemma Arterton), in the same house, at the same typewriter and still yelling at children who disturb the quiet. A few scenes later, she even takes some candy away from a local kid. (Technically she buys it when the child and her mother don’t have enough, but the comically heartless act leaves the mother and storekeeper shocked and the child in tears.)
Suffice it to say, it comes as a shock when a young schoolboy, Frank (Lucas Bond), shows up at her steps expecting shelter after being evacuated from London. Alice demands that different accommodations are made for the boy, whose father is fighting and whose mother remains in London. It will come as no surprise that the two start to develop a bond soon enough, over his model planes and her academic work in mythology.
Alice, it turns out, is a bit like a child herself, dreamy and naively selfish, making her a perfect companion to Frank.
The viciousness displayed at the beginning dissipates pretty quickly, which might come across as inauthentic to some, but the story does start to reveal why children annoy her so.
“Summerland” occasionally (and somewhat clunkily) cuts back a few years before the war, to show that Alice wasn’t always a loner.
In fact, she had a very picturesque romance with a woman, Vera (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who breaks Alice’s heart when she leaves to have children.
The flashbacks allow the production design and hair and makeup team to dabble in some jollier looks than wartime invites, and Arterton and Mbatha-Raw look especially fabulous in their flapper wares.
The director’s affection for the pair is clear: Both actors starred in the title role in Swale’s play “Nell Gwynn.” Here, Alice naturally gets more to do — it’s her story — but you do come away wishing for more Mbatha-Raw as well.
That’s all very nice, but what’s it got to do with Alice in the war and in the 70s? Well, fair warning, the threads do come together and far too neatly.
But the charms of “Summerland” aren’t in its plot. They’re in the sentiment, which is too good-hearted to be cynical about, and the characters. Tom Courtenay gets a lovely role as the school’s headmaster and the tiny Dixie Egerickx steals scenes as Frank’s spirited friend Edie.
“Summerland” even felt a little resonant in the current moment. Quarantine doesn’t compare to wartime sacrifices in the least, of course, and yet there is something undeniably moving about watching a hopeful and kind film like “Summerland” right now.
“Summerland,” an IFC Films release, has not been rated by the Motion Picture Association of America. Running time: 100 minutes. Three stars out of four.
August: Sturgeon Moon
The sturgeon, a large fish common to the Great Lakes and other nearby bodies of water, is most easily caught during this month. The reddish appearance of the moon through the frequent sultry hazes of August also prompted a few tribes to dub it the Red Moon. Other names included the Green Corn Moon and the Grain Moon.
Time of full moon: 11:59 a.m.
September: Harvest Moon
Many of the Native American tribes' staple foods, such as corn, pumpkins, squash, beans, and rice, are ready for gathering at this time. The strong light of the Harvest Moon allowed European farmers to work late into the night to harvest their crops. The Harvest Moon does not always occur in September. Traditionally, the name goes to the full moon closest to the autumn equinox, which falls during October once or twice a decade.
Time of full moon: 1:22 a.m
October: Hunter's Moon
After the fields have been reaped, the leaves begin to fall and the deer are fat and ready for eating. Hunters can ride easily over the fields' stubble, and the fox and other animals are more easily spotted. Some years the Harvest Moon falls in October instead of September.
Time of full moon: 5:05 p.m.
November: Beaver Moon
At this time of year the beavers are busy preparing for winter, and it's time to set beaver traps and secure a store of warm fur before the swamps freeze over.
Time of full moon: 4:30 a.m.
December: Cold Moon
Winter takes a firm hold and temperatures plummet at this time. Sometimes this moon is also called the Long Night Moon as the winter nights lengthen and the moon spends more time above the horizon opposite a low sun. The full moon name often used by Christian settlers is the "Moon before Yule."
Time of full moon: 10:28 p.m.
March: The Worm Moon
Snow slowly begins to melt, the ground softens, and earthworms show their heads again and their castings or fecal matter can be found.Christian settlers also called this the Lenten Moon and considered it the last moon of winter.
Time of full moon: 1:48 p.m.
April: The Pink Moon
Flowers begin to appear, including the widespread grass pink or wild ground phlox. Other variations indicate more signs of full spring, such as Sprouting Grass Moon, Egg Moon, and Fish Moon (common among coastal tribes).
Time of full moon: 10:35 p.m.
May: The Flower Moon
Flowers come into full bloom and corn is ready to plant. Also called the Corn Planting Moon and the Milk Moon.
Time of full moon: 6:45 a.m.
June: The Strawberry Moon
Strawberry-picking season reaches its peak during this time. This is one of the few names that was universal to all Algonquin tribes.
Time of full moon: 3:12 p.m.
July: The Buck Moon
Buck deer start growing velvety hair-covered antlers in July. Frequent thunderstorms in the New England area also resulted in the name Thunder Moon. Some tribes also used Hay Moon.
Time of full moon: 12:44 a.m.
Blue moon on July 31st, according to https://www.nasa.gov/vision/universe/watchtheskies/07jul_bluemoon.html.
How about a blue moon?
When you hear someone say "Once in a Blue Moon..." you know they mean: Rare/seldom.
According to modern folklore, a Blue Moon is the second full moon in a calendar month. Usually months have only one full moon, but occasionally a second one sneaks in. Full moons are separated by about 29 days, while most months are 30 or 31 days long; so it is possible to fit two full moons in a single month. This happens every two and a half years, on average.