So I finally got round to watching Summer In February. It’s only taken me a couple of years. In case you’ve forgotten, given that it hit the cinemas in 2013, let me remind you: it was a romantic period drama set at the heart of the Newlyn School of Artists in 1913, and filmed on location in West Cornwall, particularly Lamorna. At its heart was a torrid love triangle: nice chap Gilbert Evans (Dan Stevens, best known as floppy-haired beau Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey and somewhat typecast here) sees his true love Florence (Emily Browning) snaffled from under his nose by his bad boy best friend AJ Munnings (Dominic Cooper). Said true love realises her mistake very quickly; cue much gazing into the middle distance to the sound of maudlin strings.
Reviews deemed it strictly average, which is a shame as I rather enjoyed it. Sure, there were some clichés, but there were also some lovely performances – especially from Shaun Dingwall and Hattie Morahan as Harold and Laura Knight. Besides, when you’re watching in Cornwall, there’s only one star of the show. The county was shot beautifully, and I greatly enjoyed playing “spot the location”.
Here, though, is my only complaint, one which applies to many films and TV dramas shot in the county. Too much knowledge is not always a good thing. I understand that modern-day Lamorna, with its car parks and cafes, does not compare with 1913, and so alternatives had to be sought. And I realise that Cornwall has a plethora of marvellous beaches that are a joy to the cinematographer’s eye. But – and forgive me if I sound pedantic – those of us who live here, or at least know Cornwall well, get more than a little distracted when the action jumps to North Cornwall, which we’re asked to believe is a few minutes away on horseback. I loved the many scenes of thundering hooves on golden sands, but the lingering shots of Carters’ Rocks instantly gave the location away as Holywell Bay.
Similar comments were made about Poldark (which was given a much warmer reception nonetheless). “Now I know Illogan is so close to Charlestown, I’m off to buy myself a horse,” quipped one viewer on the CT Facebook page. And do you remember The Fold? Once I’d got over the excitement of seeing the protagonist perusing Cornwall Today in her doctor’s waiting room (of course), I returned to the obvious question: who drives from London to Cornwall via the Clifton suspension bridge and the country lanes of Bodmin Moor? Maybe they’d visited friends on the way, or had time to kill – or maybe they were filmic devices to suggest a scenic journey west, of the kind that the M4 and M5 just don’t deliver? Answers on a postcard, please.
But having read the insightful article by TV producer Maggie Fogarty in the October issue of Cornwall Today, I now appreciate that there are so many factors to consider when choosing a film location, and pinpoint accuracy is not always possible for a variety of reasons. In any case, folk upcountry (and even abroad) are most likely oblivious to all this. The bottom line is that these shows and films portray Cornwall in a way that sings its praises and inspires visitors to come, and for that I am truly grateful.