Summer in February: A True Story
dir Christopher Menaul
scr Jonathan Smith
prd Jeremy Cowdrey, Pippa Cross, Janette Day, Dan Stevens
with Dominic Cooper, Emily Browning, Dan Stevens, Hattie Morahan, Shaun Dingwall, Mia Austen, Max Deacon, Michael Maloney, Nicholas Farrell, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Tom Ward-Thomas, Ollie Marsden
release UK 14.Jun.13
13/UK 1h33
Summer in February
On the beach: Stevens and Browning

cooper browning stevens
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Summer in February There's probably an interesting story in this true pre-WWI love triangle, but director Menaul and writer Smith never quite get a grip on it. The actors do what they can, but are constantly undermined by clunky direction and dialog, which leaves us unable to care about what happens.

In 1913 Lamorna, on the dramatic Cornwall coastline, a group of bohemian artists live and work and get up to all kinds of mischief. The life of the party is painter AJ Munnings (Cooper), a rogue who seems to be working his way through the women. His art-world pals include Joey (Deacon); Dolly (Austen), who happily poses naked for anyone; and Laura and Harold Knight (Morahan and Dingwall). And when Joey's painter sister Florence (Browning) arrives she catches the eye of both AJ and his best friend, dashing army officer Gilbert (Stevens).

The story hinges on a decision Florence makes that changes all of their lives. But the filmmaking underplays this moment just as it smoothes away every sharp edge in this supposedly anarchic community. The only sense of wildness is the nudity, but even that has a leery misogynistic tone that undermines any artistic vision. An experienced TV director, Menaul never locates the characters, shooting in close-up with flat, sometimes awkward camera work and a score (by Benjamin Wallfisch) that swells every cliche.

As a result, it's impossible to get a feel for these artists, who are portrayed as mopey, erratic cyphers: the tormented girl caught between the dashing artist and the knight in shining armour. The problem is that Cooper plays the only character with any shadings. AJ is a bundle of charm and arrogance, so he's by far the most interesting person in the movie, even though it's clear that Menaul thinks our sympathies should lie with the painfully dull Gilbert and Florence.

In the end, the only way to enjoy this film is to imagine the spark, energy and sex that's missing from the screen. Otherwise it just feels earnest and badly blanded-down for the widest possible audience. But doing that always eviscerates a true story that actually has something to say about art and love. When this film limps to its laughably corny conclusion, we still have no sense of who these people might have been.

cert 15 themes, language, nudity 21.Feb.13

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© 2013 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall