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A period drama in which a woman decides between slightly boring but dependable, and a talented, slightly erratic, artist.
Trigger Warning(s): Scene of attempted rape
Review (with Spoilers)
It has been almost a year since I have last seen an Emily Browning movie, and while I could have certainly watched Pompei, I didn’t want to since it seemed so bleh. However, with Summer in February I thought this was going to be a cute period drama, something which could work well for Browning since she seems destined, due to her porcelain doll looks, to be in quite a few British period dramas. But with her not having the best record when it comes to movies, at least with me, does this one continue the trend or break it?
Characters & Story
After having a fight with her father about a man who was the perfect match for her, Florence (Emily Browning) runs away to live with her brother Joey (Max Deacon) in the pursuit of not just getting away from their father, but also to paint. And what better a place to end up for with the great AJ Munnings (Dominic Cooper) sharing the same circle as Joey, as well as Harold Knight (Shaun Dingwall), there are many possible teachers and mentors in town. Though it seems with Florence’s beauty, these artist would prefer her to replace local model Dolly (Mia Austen) over providing tutelage. So she has to force the point she came to learn to paint.
However, in the pursuit of justifying her stay to her father, she ends up attracting two men. The first being AJ, the wild and passionate painter, and then Gilbert (Dan Stevens) who is this calm, cool, and collected military man. And while the film, at first, presents Florence as a girl who isn’t looking for love, just good company, knowledge, and maybe someone to match wits with, she soon falls for one of these boys and the quality of the film falls with it.
As noted in the introduction, Browning certainly has the perfect look for a period drama. Add in the right amount of cheekiness she possesses in her voice, as well as a look which screams naivety, innocence, and perhaps privilege, and I think you have a prime candidate for a Jane Austen adaptation. However, in terms of this story, while Austen-esque sarcasm isn’t on display, for the first 40 or so minutes Browning is quite a sight and her character Florence seems like someone who demands to be taken seriously. With this you are presented a rather interesting picture in which a woman seems to not mind male attention, even enjoys it a bit, but seems committed to becoming a better artist over anything else. Which, for me, I thought was a perfect direction for the film. Though with it being based on a true story, and set in the early 1900s, I should have known it was too good to be true.
If just because, unfortunately, with Florence falling in love, or perhaps more so in great admiration, her story as an artist slips away as she ends up a love interest. One who seemingly picked the wrong man, slowly loses a reason to draw, and becomes a bore to watch. Mostly due to all her wit, and any sense of moxy, just disappearing. Making the hour after she becomes married, at first, a bit interesting since we see her deal with insecurities and what not, but after a while things feel like they are just dragging on and it makes you wish what happened in those first 40 minutes still was going on rather than the mess you are left with.
Overall: TV Viewing
Despite rarely giving any Emily Browning film an overall positive review, I do remain a fan. Not because I think she is attractive, if anything I think it is because she certainly has talent, but the issue is she doesn’t find films which are good throughout. They start off strong but once the drama starts to really kick in, usually the film falls apart. Which is what leads to the TV Viewing label for this film since the film started good, not strong but good, and I liked seeing Browning use her great ability to seem vulnerable, a bit cheeky, and certainly someone who could hold her own against not just the male gaze, but all the talent around her. However, once she got diminished to a love interest it was all downhill. Her life became about who her husband may have been with, her wondering if she made the right decision, and then her wanting to escape from her husband. All making for the type of drama done far too much for this film to not put any effort into trying to stand out and make things interesting.
“It is a strange feeling, having given oneself away so lightly.”
— Summer in February