British films with a historical theme are typically well-made, gorgeous to look at and in general worth watching; and Christopher Menaul's "Summer in February" is no exception. This is certainly a powerful advertisement for wonders of Cornwall only too apparent to those like myself, who have been there and fallen in love with the county pretty much instantly. For artists, it was always a matter of landscape and "the light" there, and this is also no exaggeration.
In this particular case, the artistic community featured is one that assembled in Cornwall from around 1907, and in particular in the 1910-1913 period. The film itself claims to be set in 1914, when the February was indeed mild, as winters in Cornwall typically are. However, this is a slight "telescoping" of the facts in what is otherwise a fairly faithful presentation of true history. The key protagonists are (Sir) Alfred James (AJ) Munnings (1878-1959) - here rendered by Dominic Cooper; Florence Carter-Wood (1888-1914) - played by Australian Emily Browning; non-artist Captain Gilbert Evans (1883-1966) - played by Downton's Dan Stevens; Dame Laura Knight (1877-1970) - played by Hattie Morahan; and Laura's husband Harold Knight (1874-1961) - played by Shaun Dingwall. All are well-acted, and portray what by the standards of the day was a bit of a "Bohemian" lifestyle.
At this point, we come to the key question here - do you want to devote 100 minutes of your life to the relatively passionate and tragic, but ultimately sort-of trivial goings-on of artists few have ever heard of over 100 years ago? The question comes all the louder when one notes that the story told here (basically by writer Jonathan Smith) arises primarily because Munnings was not an especially nice or stable guy, Florence was not an especially rational woman, and Evans was the "Officer and Gentleman" you might expect.
By this point, a normal person might be screaming out: "who cares?"
In my view, this is the wrong attitude; but then I opted to watch the film anyway - because of Cornwall, because British-made, and because the acting was good in a story that does have a good dose of passion and sadness in it. As a bonus, I learned that, for all their faults, the above artists were very talented indeed, produced quite a few very impressive works (readily viewable online, as well as in galleries) and are (relatively) little-known solely because the tide of (trendy, though not necessarily ordinary person's) interest turned against their kind of painting. Munnings was notably opposed to Modern Art, and Menaul has Cooper make an angry (possibly drunken) reference to "Pi**-casso", which I found quite witty!
In fact - among many other things - Munnings went on to paint pictures (sometimes even slightly impressionistic) for the Canadian Cavalry in WWI, and these are as significant and moving as you might expect.
Perhaps you don't need to watch a film to learn about the above artists and come to appreciate their worth?
Well, as it happens I did, and am more than happy to be enlightened in this way...
And I shall certainly track down these artists further the next time I'm in Cornwall.
Summer in February
Summer in February
The Newlyn School of artists flourished at the beginning of the 20th Century and the film focuses on the wild and bohemian Lamorna Group, which included Alfred Munnings and Laura and Harold Knight. The incendiary anti-Modernist Munnings, now regarded as one of Britain's most sought-after artists, is at the centre of the complex love triangle, involving aspiring artist Florence Carter-Wood and Gilbert Evans, the land agent in charge of the Lamorna Valley estate. True - and deeply moving - the story is played out against the timeless beauty of the Cornish coast, in the approaching shadow of The Great War.
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October 20, 2013 at 10:33 AM