Filmed at the termination point of the Calder Valley, Yorkshire, where it runs into Lancashire (with a few scenes shot in Bacup over on the Red Rose side of the border), My Summer Of Love is a nicely shot, relatively brief and mostly engrossing character study loosely adapted from a novel by Helen Cross. It examines the growth of a lesbian love affair between two extremely different – seemingly incompatible – teen aged girls, separated by a gulf in class, interests, education and upbringing. Throughout the film, there remains a continual question mark over the actuality of their relationship – is it real? Is it mutual? Or is at least one of the girls cruelly playing with the other's emotions?
One hot summer in Yorkshire, aimless teenager Mona (Natalie Press) meets a girl of similar age from an upper middle class background, the enigmatic and troublesome Tamsin (Emily Blunt). Mona lives with her only living relative – her brother Phil (Paddy Considine) – in a pub called The Swan, which was run by their mother before she died of cancer. Phil is a former jailbird, now a born-again Christian, who no longer operates The Swan as a pub but instead uses it as a gathering place for religious meetings with his like-minded friends Frustrated by her brother's activities, and ditched by her mean-spirited f@ck-buddy Ricky (Dean Andrews), Mona finds herself gravitating more and more towards her new friend Tamsin. It becomes clear that Tamsin's family set-up is a mess – her mother is hardly ever at home, her father is dismissive and is suspected of having an affair with his secretary, and her sister died of anorexia. Rapidly, Tamsin and Mona discover an ally in each other – someone with whom to share their inner turmoil, their disconnectedness from their families, their need to be loved. And it isn't long before they do indeed fall in love. Meanwhile, Phil plans to construct a huge cross and erect it on a hilltop above the valley, to drive out the 'evil' he senses in the people living there. Mona has no interest in attending the rally at which the cross is to be unveiled, but Tamsin insists on being there. It gradually becomes clear Tamsin wants something from Phil – but what? Is she attracted to him, or does she merely plan to lure him in before humiliating him over his religious beliefs? Moreover, if she is capable of playing such cruel games, what is to say she isn't also playing games with Mona's heart? As the summer heat-wave builds, so too the emotions of the characters boil over into lust and violence.
A small, quiet film which stays on the side of subtlety rather than opting for melodramatic excesses, My Summer Of Love is well-acted and believable throughout. Press plays Mona well, conveying the frustration, confusion and (to some extent) trashiness of the character convincingly. Pre-stardom Blunt is also excellent as Tamsin, fleshing out the character with many nuances which make it hard to decide whether she is a genuinely disaffected young lady or a manipulative bitch who gets her kicks from breaking hearts and causing havoc. The ever-reliable Considine rounds off the main characters brilliantly, playing a man ostensibly calm and peaceable on the outside but with an ever-present hint of ominous rage within. Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski directs the film with a typically European sensibility. It's unusual to find a foreign director tackling one of these Yorkshire-set stories, but it must be said he brings something new and fascinating to the proceedings. The harsher, uglier side of Yorkshire is usually presented in these films, but here Pawlikowski contrasts these things with the glorious wide open spaces of the countryside. The darkness and bleakness exist more within the characters than the setting, and the contrasts that result are very stark and effective. Sometimes the film teeters on the brink of being a little too self-consciously arty, and the relatively short running time might leave some viewers wanting more (more explanation, more characterisation, more tying together of the loose ends), but all in all My Summer Of Love is a very worthwhile little film. For its strong performances and eye-catching cinematography alone, it deserves to be seen.
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