Cast: Dominic Cooper, Emily Browning, Dan Stevens, Max Deacon
Running time: 93mins
The lowdown: Downton Abbey alumnus Dan Stevens is joined by Dominic Cooper and Emily Browning in this unconvincing based-on-true-events love triangle drama set in pre-World War I Cornwall. Cooper is renowned British painter AJ Munnings, a tempestuous soul who attracts Browning’s troubled Florence to his flame, to the dismay of Stevens’ upstanding army officer who has fallen for the willowy female. Downton fans should find sufficient distraction amidst the longing looks, love pains, tragedy and horse painting for which Munnings achieved fame. Everyone else will yearn for the character and genuine heartbreak of The Age of Innocence and The Remains of the Day.
The full verdict: Films about artists rarely convey the brilliance of their subjects, but Summer in February rarely conveys much about anything let alone painter and later-in-life Royal Academy of Art president AJ Munnings.
Thinly sketched characters listlessly shift from happy to glum to suicidal with scant motivation, and the cast are powerless to inject any life into the under-written roles despite their obvious commitment.
Browning is the pretty, vacant Florence, who travels to the bohemian community of Lamorna in Cornwall to visit her younger brother (Deacon) and finish recovering from a suggested depression. There she meets Steven’s decent but dull Gilbert and Cooper’s wild at heart Munnings, and is torn between her love for the former and her attraction to the latter’s brilliance and magnetism.
Ironically for a film celebrating the visual, Summer in February does a lot of talking. Munnings is described repeatedly as a genius, but no matter how much the G word is used, his depiction here misses the spot. Cooper goes through the motions of tortured artist; drinking, cursing, recriminating, but Munnings’ work, while presumably impressive to the Edwardians, now looks unremarkable.
Browning too cannot invest Florence with any depth, her flits between joy and despair merely cogs to keep the plot moving. Fatally, Jonathan Smith’s script, from his own novel, never convincingly explains why reliable Gilbert is so attached to the boorish Munnings that he endures watching Florence fall for such a destructive influence.
Despite occasional bad language and full frontal nudity, this is still respectable entertainment most likely to appeal to nans and Downton fans. And while words like “sumptuous” and “breathtaking” will be thrown at the chocolate box cinematography, Summer in February is thin gruel.
Any film that elicits a sigh of relief when a key character makes a second suicide attempt has applied a bum brushstroke somewhere.