Adapted by Jonathan Smith from his 1995 novel of the same name, Summer In February documents the ultimately tragic love triangle between Edwardian artist Alfred Munnings (Dominic Cooper), his best friend Captain Gilbert Evans (Dan Stevens) and the woman they both fell in love with, Florence Carter-Wood (Emily Browning). Set in Cornwall just before the First World War, the tempestuous relationships between these three intriguing historical characters are played out against the craggy backdrop of the Cornish coastline.
This script undoubtedly benefits from being written by the author of the original text; Smith knows his characters well and delivers taut, insightful scenes. Cinematographer Andrew Dunn (The Perks of Being A Wallflower) furthermore makes the most of dizzying cliffs, serene riverbanks and rickety cottages. Perhaps the most striking element of this deeply touching adaptation, which is based on events documented in the diaries of Captain Gilbert Evans, is its use of strong casting contrasts to illustrate the destructive clash of passionate personalities. Cooper oozes an uneasy, almost sordid, charisma as the unpredictable, and at times intimidating, Munnings whilst Stevens’ clean-cut manner, jutting jaw and perfectly prim posture highlights his unbending virtue as his heart is broken, by both his friend and the woman he loves, more than once. Caught between these two opposing suitors, Browning’s petite, bowed presence effortlessly paints the portrait of a delicate and complicated young woman. All in all, both the casting and the acting are a decided triumph.
A love triangle may not seem the most original storyline, but director Christopher Menaul adds intrigue by refusing to pigeon hole his characters into the categories of good and evil; morally right and wrong. By the time the final credits roll the audience is left to decide for themselves whether or not Munnings did mistreat Carter-Wood (although the fact he did not mention her in his memoirs in the same way Evans wrote about her in his diaries speaks volumes) or whether her depressive state made a bad situation far, far worse. The film does, at times, suffer from pacing problems but at a neat 100 minutes this is only a very minor flaw in what is a heartrending depiction of a very sad episode in British cultural history.