No sooner has Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens cast off Cousin Matthew’s tweeds than he’s back on screen as a stiff-upper-lipped toff. And if this wasn’t typecasting enough, in Summer in February he’s playing another thoroughly decent chap who is yearning after a flighty young woman.
His character is land agent and former army captain Gilbert Evans and the woman, played by Emily Browning, is aspiring artist Florence Carter Wood, newly arrived in the bohemian artists’ colony at Lamorna in Cornwall in 1911.
Gilbert is soon smitten with the newcomer, but before he can overcome his emotional reticence and pop the question (Bah! That stiff upper lip, again), his friend, raffish artist Alfred Munnings (Dominic Cooper), also steps in to woo her.
Based on a true love-triangle drama that played out before the First World War, Summer in February is very pretty to look at but hardly groundbreaking, just like the paintings of the Newlyn School artists whose work provides the film’s backdrop. (Munnings, a fierce anti-Modernist, said he’d give Picasso a kick up the arse if he saw him in the street.)
Stevens and Cooper are hardly stretched by their roles, and it’s Browning who gives the film’s most vivid performance as the troubled object of the men’s affections. Unfortunately, when Florence throws herself into a series of headstrong acts, Jonathan Smith’s script (adapted from his own novel, itself inspired by Evans’ diaries) fails to flesh out her motivations convincingly.
Elsewhere, the screenplay too often resorts to cliché (’I don’t want a cad living on my land’), but the lavish period detail and classy cast will appeal to lovers of cosy costume drama, even if the film will look more at home as Sunday night viewing on TV.
In cinemas from Friday 14th June.
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