I recently stumbled upon the classic period drama, A Summer Story and was blown away by the emotional power of the film. The ill-fated love story is a bittersweet tale and a hidden gem of romantic cinema more people should see.
Piers Haggard (Pennies from Heaven) directed A Summer Story using a script from Penelope Mortimer and is based on the 1916 short story “The Apple Tree” by John Galsworthy (The Forsyte Saga).
While the film never received much attention, it received strong reviews from critics and was beautifully photographed and acted.
A SUMMER STORY 1988 PLOT
What drew me into this movie is that it is such a quiet, underrated masterpiece made in a similar style to the Ivory Merchant films – albeit not as memorable or artistic.
Set in Devon during the Edwardian Era, A Summer Story portrays the tragic romance between the upper-class young lawyer, Frank Ashton, and a spirited young country girl, Megan David (Stubbs).
When Ashton injures his ankle while hiking with a friend, a local farm girl, Megan, helps him.
While he recovers, he decides to stay at her family’s nearby farmhouse for a few days – and the two quickly fall in love. Unfortunately, Ashton and Megan’s class and educational differences hinder a happy outcome.
Not the least of which is that Ashton is a feeble-minded character, afraid of what others think. He wants a certain lifestyle and isn’t sure if he can have that with Megan. Thus, the premise: will he choose love or society?
The themes of forbidden romantic love, coming-of-age, social class and status, nostalgia and reminiscence, nature, and regret will stay with you long after the movie ends.
As these themes intertwine throughout the narrative, they add depth and emotional resonance to what seems like a simple story on the surface.
A SUMMER STORY CAST AND CHARACTERS
Imogen Stubbs is a breath of fresh air playing the role of the free spirit, Megan, bringing a mix of strength and gravity to her performance. While many remember her as the wickedly awful Lucy Steele in Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility (1995), she proves here she can also play the main heroine to perfection.
Thanks to Stubbs’ brilliant, undervalued performance, it’s hard not to love Megan David in this heartbreaking tale.
On the other hand, James Wilby is just as good, portraying the complexities of a weak-minded aristocrat. A part of you roots for Ashton – while the other part despises him.
The rest of the cast includes the always-lovely Susannah York as Mrs. Narracombe, Kenneth Colley as Jim, Jerome Flynn as Joe Narracombe, Sophie Ward as Stella Halliday, Oliver Perry as Rick, Lee Billett as Nick, and more.
The filmmaking itself is absolutely gorgeous to look at. From the lovely costumes to the pastoral scenes captured beautifully by the cinematography, not to mention the powerful script from Mortimer and the strong directing from director Piers Haggard.
The pacing of the film matches the pastoral setting – slow but exquisite.
Overall, A Summer Story is a tremendous film worthy of more recognition. You’ll likely appreciate this slow-moving but devastating romantic period drama if you appreciate films like A Room with a View, Tess of the D’urbervilles, or Maurice.
It’s a unique film with twists that will hit you in the gut, and while it will never make the list of the most popular romantic period dramas of all time, quality-wise, A Summer Story is a haunting, memorable part of romantic cinema every period drama or classic film aficionado should see.
It’s like watching a haunting summer poem play out on screen.
Content Note: PG-13 for sensuality with nudity.
WHERE TO WATCH A SUMMER STORY
You can stream (as of the publication date of this review) A Summer Story on Peacock, Tubi, Amazon’s Freevee, Roku, and Pluto TV, or rent/buy it on Digital (Amazon Video only). Availability is subject to change at any time.
Have you seen A Summer Story? Would do you think of this classic period drama? Let me know in the comments.