Upon hearing the title Summer in February what immediately springs to mind is an ironic moniker for a rant (possibly delivered by a jowly white van man dressed in a ketchup-stained tank top) about how global warming’s all baloney because it snowed this winter. He would probably go on to blame the immigrants and extol the virtues of the Daily Mail. Luckily, I don’t write films and what we have instead is a period drama set at the beginning of the 20th Century. Think Downton Abbey, but with Dominic Cooper instead of Maggie Smith.
The film follows the BBC’s recent pattern of success of taking someone’s diary and filming it. Although this time the material comes from a novel based on journals, Samuel Pepys still has a lot to answer for. The unwitting chronicler is land-agent Gilbert Evans, played by Dan Stevens. Set in 1913, Summer in February tells the almost true story of a love triangle between Evans and two of his artist tenants in Cornwall: Norwich trained horse-painter AJ Munnings (Cooper) and his wife, Florence Carter-Wood (Emily Browning). The pair was part of the bohemian Lamorna Group; named after the estate Evans managed, and the film is set at the time that Munnings was on the cusp of success. But, painting AJ Munnings as a daring liberal is problematic. A large body of his work reeked of hunting, horse-racing and the English gentry and in his later years he became close friends with Winston Churchill.
The casting of the film is far simpler, relying on tropes so, despite all this art, the general public isn’t out of its depth. Dominic Cooper seems to have developed a habit of being type cast as a bit of a shit. In Summer in February he plays up to this as a supposedly decent tea-swilling chap whose philandering drives his wife to suicide. The real Munnings subsequently left her out of his memoirs. Dan Stevens, on the other hand, rests on his Matthew Crawley shaped laurels as an all-round nice guy; albeit one who is ultimately betrayed by his best friend, while Emily Browning rounds off the trio as the prize to be won in the boys’ pissing contest.
But, for all of its trend following window dressing, this has the potential to be a film with substance. At its heart is a story of love and betrayal that rockets inevitably towards death; a tale of unsustainable youthful liberty that gives way to tragedy, and war, and to unimaginable success. Even if this is a story that’s been told a hundred times before, it can still be interesting. A quick Google reveals Munnings to be a fascinating character, and even more intriguingly, draws a blank for both Evans and Carter-Wood. This is the kind of film that won’t win awards, but it’ll keep your grandmother entertained for a rainy afternoon, if only so she can pick out the historical inaccuracies, and really that’s all you can ask for.
Summer in February is due to be released in cinemas nationwide on 14th June.