UK | 2004 | Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski
Logline: A naïve teenager, in despair over her working class father’s born again Christianity, seeks solace and escapism in a romantic fling with an upper-middle class teenage girl.
With a cast of only eight speaking parts, five of which barely have more than a line or two, My Summer of Love is essentially a two-hander; the relationship between young Mona (Natalie Press) and young Tamsin (Emily Blunt), with Mona’s adult brother Phil (Paddy Considine) playing the part of the sub-plot that occasionally interferes. It’s a classic tale of love and betrayal, distinctly English and very feminine, yet the director is an ex-pat Polish guy.
The novel of the same name by Helen Cross is a disquieting tour-de-force of adolescent mischief, familial dysfunction, coursing with intense vernacular. The narrative is through the eyes of Mona, and she’s a lonely and damaged soul. It’s not entirely her fault, but she doesn’t help matters by drowning her sorrows in booze and whiling away her hours on the village pub’s fruit machines. Her exhilarating fling with a girl-that’s-out-of-reach - the aloof, yet utterly charming Tamsin - is precisely what she needs, but in the end the trust is shattered, the bond irreparably damaged, and the consequences are dire.
I shouldn’t compare the movie adaptation – penned by Pawlikowski in collaboration with Michael Wynne – with the book, simply because it is so very different, but it’s a curiously altered affair. Pawlikowski and Wynne jettison so much of the book one wonders whether it warrants comparison at all. Phil is an amalgam of Mona’s father and teenage brother, with her sister completely written out. In the novel there is no religious context whatsoever, yet the movie makes quite a deal out of Phil’s worship, and even uses his religious fervor to work against him in a superb scene of playful, but dangerous, manipulation.
The novel has a powerful and disturbing climax and a dissolute end, which the movie dabbles with, but ultimately abandons. However, it has to be said that the movie’s ending still retains a sense of purposeful drama, strangely poetic in its abrupt jagged end. My Summer of Love is a title of sweet irony, of bitter truth, but more importantly of heartache. The cruelty of those closest to us is the deepest stab to the heart. Mona storms away in wretched disgust, leaving Tamsin floundering, still wrapped in arrogance.
It seems their romance was an opportunist infatuation, less about sex and emotion, and more a calculated contempt for surrounding men, certainly in design on Tamsin’s part, more an influenced behaviour on Mona’s part. The cruelty of Phil, of Tamsin’s father, and of Mona’s older lover Ricky is refracted like the hot sunshine through a broken piece of glass lying in the grass, while the electronic folk music by Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory, in particular the dreamy melancholy of Lovely Head, fits like hand in rubber glove.
The mid-80s heatwave that encompasses the novel is less apparent in the movie, but it’s still unseasonably warm, and superlative performances exude from Natalie Press and Emily Blunt, complimented by the always-exceptional Paddy Considine. Yorkshire has a disarming beauty, the tiny township nestled in the valley, the tiny brooks weaving through the woods, the bulging hillside covered in lavender, while two young girls glowing with Sapphic sensuality, bristling high on magic mushrooms, musky with the scent of Sapphire gin, plan their sweet escape.