Summer in February: A beautiful film that lacks honesty

I grew up in Cornwall. I say “grew up” but really I was there only from age two and-a-bit to age ten. Just eight years in fact. Not very long in the grand scheme of things but in terms of childhood, it was Cornwall that shaped me. I will most likely revisit the impact that Cornwall  had on me – and more specifically my family life there – sometime in the future. For now, my mentioning of the fact merely serves to allow me to introduce my ‘review’ of the film, Summer in February, which is set there. Indeed it was the setting that drew me in to seeing the film in the first place – the promise of rugged coastal scenery, the hope of recognising somewhere familiar and of course, allowing myself to dream the dream of one day returning to live there. The actual story was, I’m slightly embarrassed to say, secondary.

Page 566 of the Autumn/Winter 1911 Kay's Catelogue

Summer in February presents Page 566 of the Autumn/Winter 1911 Kay’s Catelogue

The film, adapted by Jonathan Smith from his novel by the same name, and directed by Christopher Menaul, tells the true story of the inter-mingling between some of the main players in the Edwardian artists’ community of Lamorna in the the early part of the twentieth century. It homes in on the relationship between Alfred “A J” Munnings, his close friend Gilbert Evans and his eventual wife, Florence Carter Wood.

I say this is a ‘review’ but in truth I want to focus on one particular aspect of the film – the character of Florence. Fairly early on in the story we learn that she hides within her a deep unhappiness that affects her ability to cope with the desires and sensibilities of AJ. Although the narrative isn’t explicit there are certainly clues to suggest she suffers from manic depression. She attempts to kill herself on her wedding night, taking cyanide, but is thankfully saved. The episode is thus brushed under the carpet, certainly in the film, and I would suspect, given the period in question, also in reality. A brief period in hospital followed by bed-rest and it’s never mentioned again.  Not something to talk about.

One-hundred years later from the period and I tend to think we’ve done very little growing up as a society in our approach to the intended finality of anyone who has, within themselves reached such a point of grief, that they believe the only option is to end their existence. Of course we have charities and carers who are constant in their attempt to de-stigmatise mental illness. And if we choose to listen, they guide us in how we can be better equipped to react to, and interact with and deal with someone who has suffered some kind of severe depression, had cause to harm themselves, or attempted suicide. But despite best effort, best intentions, best belief, often the easiest thing for us to do, is avoid, ignore or gloss over the topic when faced first-hand with the issue.

It takes a little courage for someone to talk about their own experience of mental illness. However, I suspect it may take greater courage for a friend  to recognise and, not necessarily understand but, engage with that someone.

There. Not really a film review at all. So to finish off then I’ll say there was great acting (particularly from Dominic Cooper and Emily Browning) and beautiful cinematography (you couldn’t fail with such a backdrop). And while I of course fully expected to come away sated by my fix of  Cornish scenery, I also experienced the rare chance to relate to one of the characters. However my one major irritation of Mr Menaul’s handling of the story is that he fell short of his duty to present an honest perspective of Carter Wood’s mental turmoil, choosing only to sensationalise and effectively isolate the depths of her anguish. 

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