When it comes to popular British exports, feel-good cinema is almost up there with fish and chips, so it should come as no surprise Summerland ticks all the right boxes.
An unadorned Gemma Arterton stars as Alice Lamb, a reclusive academic in a small English seaside village, who cares little for socialising and a whole lot about uncovering the factual origins of folklores and myths.
Back in World War II England, the nature of Alice’s research and apparent willingness to accept spinsterhood have her cast as an outsider to the point local schoolboys are certain she is a nazi spy and regularly play pranks on her.
If that wasn’t enough to justify her distaste of children, a series of flashbacks to the 1920s reveal a romantic dalliance with a free-spirited woman, Vera (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), which ended prematurely because Vera felt the societal pressure to marry (a bloke) and have kids.
The scars of that experience run deep, explaining the aforementioned spinsterhood, but Alice’s solitary existence is turned upside down when she is asked to billet a young boy, Frank (Lucas Bond) seeking refuge from the blitz in London.
Initially as warm as an English winter morning, Alice makes the poor boy cook his own dinner, and it isn’t until the two bond over her research — particularly the historic myth of cities floating in the sky — that a friendship begins to grow.
But it wouldn’t be feel-good British cinema without a setback to overcome, and some tragic news drives a wedge between Alice and Frank that lands both in the English capital as German bombs rain down.
First-time director Jessica Swale is well suited to the task, with the film owing much of its DNA to her previous life as a playwright.
Her first play, Blue Stockings, examined the discrimination faced by female intellectuals, a theme central to Summerland, while her Olivier Award-winning comedy Nell Gwynn saw her work with both Mbatha-Raw and Arterton.
Sun-soaked cinematography, the white cliffs of Dover and homely knitwear make this movie an exercise in wistfulness for Old Blighty, if one is predisposed to such sentiment, but the plot hinges on a couple of narrative leaps that could span the English Channel. Ultimately, it is these leaps that prevent the film from fully realising its potential and short-circuit a deeper exploration of character and this period of history.
It is, however, a perfectly charming entry into Britain’s bulging back-catalogue of feel-good cinema.