Cornish scenery is film's extra star turn
Jackie Butler speaks to Summer In February author Jonathan Smith ahead of the DVD release.
It's no surprise that the cast and crew of Summer in February fell in love with the rugged beauty of West Cornwall when they came down to film the screen adaptation of Jonathan Smith's moving, passionate novel.
Based on a true story, it is set in the bohemian art community of Lamorna 100 years ago. The dramatic scenery and comparative isolation – windswept granite cliffs, hidden coves, sweeping sandy beaches and intimate woodlands – is what drew creative minds and free spirits to the area in the early 20th century – and those qualities remain pretty much unchanged today.
A strong sense of location shines brightly as the tragic love triangle between celebrated horse painter and incendiary anti-Modernist AJ Munnings (played by Dominic Cooper), Army captain and Lamorna land agent Gilbert Evans (Dan Stevens) and aspiring artist Florence Carter Wood (Emily Browning) as it plays out against its honest backdrop.
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The film premiered in Cornwall, then London, in June. On Monday it becomes available on DVD, with plenty of extra features and additional footage – great news considering its limited cinema exposure.
When Jonathan – who also scripted the movie – was writing his original book back in the early 1990s, he researched tirelessly to flesh out the bare bones of the real Gilbert's actual workaday diary entries.
It had clear cinematic potential from the start, but it took some 20 years – and much hard work from the assembled production team – to reach the screen.
"Writing the book involved a lot of research in Cornwall. There is not one inch of that area that I have not walked.... From Newlyn, to Mousehole to Lamorna. I looked at it from every angle," said Jonathan.
"After the book came out, everyone said it's got to be a film; I didn't write it to be a film but I knew it was very visual. I feel very good about it because I think the cast is absolutely superb, hugely talented and vivacious.
"It is a British, independent film, privately funded by people who supported it with no strings. It's a gutsy thing to do. We are very proud of that."
It was an art teacher at Tonbridge School in Kent, where Jonathan taught for many years, who first told him the story.
"I was enchanted. I am very interested in little footnotes of history, stories that are not yet told – powerful and emotional things," he said.
Dan Stevens – best known and loved for his role in Downton Abbey – who co-produced as well as taking a lead role, and the film's main producer, Jeremy Cowdrey, were both Jonathan's pupils – albeit a generation apart.
Dan recalls reading the book when he was at school. "It's a story I have lived with half my life and I remember saying that it would make a great film," he said.