Not that it was in any doubt, but the newly released trailer for “Summer in February” suggests that its male lead, “Downton Abbey” departee Dan Stevens, is set to become the universal male comforter for several generations of women in England and ports beyond.
Christopher Menaul’s movie, which ARTINFO first reported on here, is set in the Newlyn art colony in Cornwall, England, just before the outbreak of the First World War. In 191o, Edith Florence Carter-Wood (played by Emily Browning), the depressive daughter of a rich Cumberland brewer, moved to Cornwall to study at the painting school set up by Stanhope and Elizabeth Forbes in Newlyn, a neighbor of Penzance and the southernmost town on the British mainland.
Two years later, she married Alfred Munnings (1878-59), 10 years her senior, who would succeed George Stubbs (1724-1806) and John Frederick Herring, Sr. (1795 -1865) as Britain’s foremost equine painter. They moved into a hotel in the nearby fishing village Lamorna, where the local land agent and Boer War veteran Gilbert Evans (Stevens) was living.
The ebullient Munnings (Dominic Cooper) neglected his bride and when he was away entrusted her to Captain Evans, who became her gentlemanly escort. They fell in love, of course. Evans’s diary entry for February 22, 1914 explains the title of Jonathan Smith’s novel “Summer in February” and the movie he adapted from it:
“Had early lunch with Blote [Florence’s nickname] in my room,” Evans wrote, “and then for a walk over the cliffs to Penberth where we had tea, then back by the road in the evening. A summer day to be remembered.”
Knowing that their relationship was untenable, Evans left for a Royal Engineers expedition to Nigeria two months later. “She saw me off at Paddington. We parted at 3.15,” he wrote. “I went to the train alone and very sad.” They never saw each other again. Evans would outlive Florence by 52 years.
Some reports have suggested that Munnings and Florence never consummated their marriage but that she had become pregnant with her and Evans’s child. If the movie follows this line it may steal some preemptive thunder from the Emma Thompson-scripted “Effie,” which depicts the affair between John Ruskin’s wife, Euphemia, and the pre-Raphaelite artist John Everett Milliais; Ruskin famously flinched from marital intercourse.
Complicating “Summer in February”’s torrid story is the Impressionist painter Laura Knight’s unrequited love for Munnings and the affection of her jealous husband Harold Knight, the portraitist and landscape and interior painter, for Florence. Hattie Morahan plays Laura, Shaun Dingwall plays Harold. The movie opens in the U.K. on June 14. It hasn’t yet been picked up by an American distributor.
The Penlee House museum and gallery in Penzance, home to many Newlyn school paintings, is showing an exhibition called “Summer in February, Art in Lamorna, 1910-1914” through June 8. See also Women Artists in Cornwall for paintings of Florence before and after her marriage to Munnings.
Watch the trailer for “Summer in February”: