15 June 2013

Christopher Menaul’s ‘Summer in February’

Christopher Menaul has been directing drama series and films for TV for over 40 years but Summer in February seems to be his first film for commercial release. I mentioned it last November in a post about the Laura Knight exhibition in Worcester. The film, “based on a true story”, is set in Cornwall (SW England) in 1913 and was scripted by Jonathan Smith from his novel of the same title about a love triangle among the bohemian community of artists working at that time in Lamorna. In the film Laura (Hattie Morahan) and her husband Harold (Shaun Dingwall) are onlookers as the young emerging artistic talent of the day, AJ Munnings (Dominic Cooper), and the much more conventional local land agent and army officer, Gilbert Evans (Dan Stevens), vie for the affections of Florence Carter-Wood (Emily Browning).

Summer in February is handsomely filmed against some of the finest coastal scenery in Europe and the period settings are as picturesque as some of the works in the Artists in Cornwall show earlier this year, or those to be found at the Penlee House Gallery in Penzance. However, I wasn’t totally persuaded by its characters’ behaviour, although well-acted. Would Laura and Harold have skinny-dipped in quite so unembarrassed a fashion in front of Gilbert and Florence? [See comments below] Would AJ have used f-words in front of women in 1913, Menaul and Cooper seemingly having decided to portray him as a YBA du temps? Did Munnings, notorious for his speech against modernism in 1949, have such a down on Picasso as early as 1913 – the latter’s style in AJ’s parody seems to belong to a later period? A useful, if not impartial, source of information about Munnings is provided by the Castle House Trust’s website. Although there is no mention of his first wife, their biography does point out that “he spent the first three years of the 1914-18 war mainly in Lamorna” and that “It was from Lamorna that he made his excursions to Hampshire where he had discovered, in the gypsy hop pickers, a wealth of painting material.”

Dr James Fox, in his recently repeated BBC4 series, British Masters, put Munnings into context and drew attention to his considerable skill as an artist. Actors aren’t expected to possess such skills of course, but have to look convincing when they take the part of artists (or, worse, musicians), as does the art they are working on (The Morning Ride, sold at Christie’s in 2000, right). The Spectator sent their art critic, Andrew Lambirth, to review Summer in February and he thought the problem had been handled well.

By an odd coincidence, there have been two period films released in the last two weeks, one set in SW France and the other in SW England, both dealing with the consequences for women of choosing the wrong husband!


  1. It was Joey and Dolly skinny dipping, not Laura and Harold!

  2. Thank you very much for pointing this error out - I have amended accordingly. Apologies to anyone who was misled. Those 1913 bohemians!