Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

dir-scr Jessica Swale
prd Guy Heeley, Adrian Sturges
with Gemma Arterton, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Lucas Bond, Penelope Wilton, Tom Courtenay, Dixie Egerickx, Sian Phillips, Amanda Root, Jessica Gunning, Amanda Lawrence, Martina Laird, Toby Osmond
release UK/US 31.Jul.20
20/UK 1h39

mbatha-raw wilton courtenay
bfi flare

Watch it now...

arterton and bond
Snappy and engaging, this period drama is infused with prickly comedy and characters who have enjoyably big personalities. Writer-director Jessica Swale creates such a vivid atmosphere that we can't help but be drawn into this tale about people who connect on unexpected levels. It's packed with moments that are funny, sweet and wrenchingly emotional. And it delicately makes pointed comments about the connections that hold us together.
In the mid-1970s, the cantankerous Alice (Wilton) is struggling to write her memoirs, remembering when in the 1940s she (then Arterton) was required to house Frank (Bond), a child evacuee from London, in her home on the Kent coast. Feared by the local kids for her witch-like demeanour, she feels that Frank is distracting her from writing about a mythical island called Summerland. But he connects with the stories. And having Frank around causes Alice's mind to wander back to when she fell in love with Vera (Mbatha-Raw), a realist who wanted a traditional family.
Of course, it's enjoyable to watch Frank worm his way into Alice's heart. Seeing her three decades later, it's clear that she doesn't soften up much, but Frank does awaken some surprising instincts, especially as they connect to her romantic past. Swale weaves these elements together skilfully, focussing on the characters rather than the period details, and continually looking under the surface for deeper emotional resonance. This makes the film about a lot more than Alice's relationships with Frank or Vera. And a turn in the tale (which seems contrived but isn't) makes the resonance hit with even more force.

The energetic details in the characters offer plenty for the gifted cast to work with. Arterton and Bond develop a strikingly authentic chemistry together, finding common interests while remaining earthy and grounded. It's especially entertaining to watch them connect through their lively imaginations. There are excellent performances in the margins from the always superb Mbatha-Raw, Wilton and Courtenay (as Frank's teacher). And Egerickx is terrific in as Frank's school friend, who has her own strong ideas.

Gorgeous sun-drenched settings make the film beautiful to look at, skilfully shot by cinematographer Laurie Rose. And the screenplay features several vivid conversations between the characters, most notably when Alice speaks openly to Frank about her love for a woman. There's even a subtle reason why he accepts this without question in 1940. There are also pungent discussions about the nature of storytelling and faith. Plus a salient question: how do you know something isn't true just because you haven't seen it?

cert 12 themes, language, violence 26.Jul.20

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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall