Introduction

My Summer of Love

My Summer of Love
  • Country of production: UK
  • Year: 2004
  • Certificate: 15
  • Director: Pawel Pawlikowski
  • Running time: 86 minutes
 

My Summer of Love is the intoxicating story of a friendship between two teenage girls one summer which becomes increasingly intense. The unlikely protagonists are Mona (NATALIE PRESS), sparky but poor, and the accomplished TAMSIN (EMILY BLUNT), back from boarding school. The opening scene, in which Mona's brother Phil (PADDY CONSIDINE) is pouring drink down the drain in the pub they run because he has found God, hints at his increasingly disturbing presence later in the film.

It is a 'gorgeous little film' (Jason Solomons, The Observer). Described by several critics as the best British film of the year, it won the Michael Powell Award for Best British Film at the Edinburgh Film Festival and has also been shown at the London Film Festival.

This fairytale-like love story was directed by Polish-born but British-based Pawel Pawlikowski, whose previous major work, the acclaimed Last Resort, dealt with a rather different British subject: asylum seekers. His skill at collaborating with actors and in developing dialogue here brings out distinctively English mannerisms of region and class. Haunting music by Goldfrapp sets the hypnotic tone, and the dreamy visual style makes the English countryside appear exotic, with an air of languid eroticism.

It was shot around Todmorden in West Yorkshire and the nearby town of Bacup across the border in Lancashire during the long hot summer of 2003. Pawlikowski was drawn to the area because of its post- industrial emptiness and an elemental nature which suggests something strangely transcendental.

The film is very loosely adapted from a novel by Helen Cross set in the 1980s during the miners' strike. Pawlikowski chose instead to give the film a timeless look, removing anything tying it to any recognisable period, and creating a melancholic, abstract air, in order to strip away the "noise and triviality" of modern day Britain, which are devoid of spirituality and epitomised for him by trashy boy band music and Big Brother. Pawlikowski says people are losing the capacity to yearn for a great passion.

"Everything is measured economically or in terms of lifestyle, or appearance and the meaninglessness around promoting that. In films you can actually create and immortalise characters who are stills of human beings... Whether humanity, in other words the people paying for tickets, can relate to these characters is another matter. We will see..."

Re-view

My Summer of Love

FAKE FAITH AND FANTASY

'The subtle, demonic leveller is self-deception. Everyone in this taut film lives a lie. The unnerving feature is what they're prepared to do to enjoy it.'

(JAMES CHRISTOPHER, THE TIMES)

"Just me, me brother and God"

Instinctive and inquisitive, Mona is too smart for her dead-end situation and seeks an escape route, or distraction at any rate, when her brother finds his release in spiritual form through God. She seeks salvation in Tamsin's world; as she says later as they look down on the town, "It's not like my own town, I quite like it here with you."

Tamsin is also abandoned, or at any rate left on her own too much, but while for her the story is also about escape from loneliness, it has more the feel of a "what I did in my summer holidays" exercise, as she learns about sex, working-class people and other exotica. It's as if she has been imbued with confidence and given all the life materials but hasn't quite worked out just yet how to put all the pieces together. She says she has studied the original Mona Lisa, quotes Nietzsche with abandon and declares that Edith Piaf lived a wonderfully tragic life (the kind of thing one might be expected to say). She is outwardly confident but cautious and insecure at heart, patently quite shocked by sex with men and believing Ricky and his type should be castrated.

From Sparrow to Swan

Tamsin is pleased to have found a plaything for the hols and manipulatively dresses Mona like a doll. She literally makes Mona dance to her song and for her part Mona comes alive and ultimately emerges stronger, vindicated to the strains of Edith Piaf.

Wide-eyed Mona is mischievous but impressionable, willing to be captivated by Tamsin's apparent sophistication. Tamsin, meanwhile, finds Mona's straight talking refreshing. 'Tamsin's higher-education name-dropping - "Have you read Nietzsche?" - is designed to taunt and ensnare Mona, as surely as Mona taunts Tamsin with her boastful sexual history' (Nigel Andrews, Financial Times). Critics picked up echoes of similar bonds in Lynne Ramsay's Morvern Callar and Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures.

"I'm gonna get a job in an abattoir, work really hard, get a boyfriend who's like a bastard, churn out all these kids with mental problems, and then wait for the menopause... or cancer!"

MONA

Lens man

One of Pawlikowski's main collaborators is Ryszard Lenczewski and his artful cinematography evokes the hazy indolence of summer with wistful cut-away shots of ominous clouds, smoking chimney stacks, wisps of cigarette smoke rising from the heather and even gnomes. 'The viewer starts to feel mundane reality yielding to the imaginative verve of the girls' (Richard T. Kelly, Sight & Sound).

This beautiful, mystical photography gives the unfolding drama a timeless, slightly off-kilter feel. The setting is also ambiguous, at once very specific and somehow imagined, as Sandra Hebron commented in introducing the film for the London Film Festival. 'It is a film of moments. For a while, as the two girls become mutually hypnotised, the story seems to have the timeless promise of adolescent love' (Alastair McKay, The Scotsman). Pawlikowski also gives their story the feeling of a hazy, half-remembered dream by creating intimacy through handheld camerawork and searching close-ups on the girls faces, as Allan Hunter pointed out in Screen International.

Trance

The mysterious, other-worldly music also sets the mood. There is religious imagery aplenty in the dance floor scene as the girls twirl under the influence of magic mushrooms and are bathed in light from above and viewed dispassionately by an old man with heavy-set eyes before heading to their "strange cathedral" at the rock pool.

The film cannot be faulted on its detail and editing. It is measured and credible. 'The tale clips along, and squanders not one moment on mundane exposition: the girls exist in a permanent present, the kind where it is only natural to promise to love one another forever' (Richard T. Kelly, Sight & Sound). One such subtle touch is the hissing from Phil's gas welding torch as Tamsin walks from the taxi to The Swan, a portent not unnoticed by her.

Freewheeling

Pawlikowski's directorial style makes for rich dialogue, often improvised on the spot: 'It does not drone towards us like a cargo aircraft bearing message and exposition: it behaves like a bat skittering about and emitting weird, near-hypersonic sound-bites.' (Nigel Andrews, Financial Times)

Critics universally praised the casting as inspired and the performances as superb. Natalie Press, who has been described as the new Samantha Morton, was especially praised for her portrayal of local lass Mona. (She is actually middle class and from London.) The way she flounces off from Ricky in the car park is a believable adolescent reaction to being jilted.

Emily Blunt, from Surrey, might not have had quite so far to go in playing Tamsin. Nevertheless it is arguably harder to play a pretentious character and some critics thought her performance had the edge 'in her ability to suggest a charged indifference, a sexy, disingenuous jadedness, a distractedness that is both daydreamy and designing' (Nigel Andrews, Financial Times). A flexible actress, at times she looks very young and vulnerable, at others as street wise and self-confident as Mona, for example when they approach Ricky's house on the estate.

Paddy Considine was also praised for his role in grounding what is otherwise a light film. He 'becomes abjectly terrifying without overacting in the slightest' (Tim Robey, The Daily Telegraph).

Ending

Some critics thought that the film became slightly obvious towards the end, as everyone 'suddenly begins to behave in dully predictable ways, as though recently informed that they were just characters in a movie' wrote Richard T. Kelly in Sight & Sound. He also wondered why Mona hadn't been more wary of Phil's violent tendencies. While it promises more than it finally delivers, thought Derek Malcolm in the London Evening Standard, it 'contains more ideas per square foot than most rites-of-passage films we see'

 
Pro-files

My Summer of Love

NATALIE PRESS

MONA

This is Natalie Press’s first starring role in a feature film and a major step up from her fleeting appearance in 2002’s largely forgotten British horror film The Gathering. She had previously made more of an impact in short films. She received an Honourable Mention at the 2003 Stockholm Film Festival for her work in the multi-award-winning Wasp (2003), in which she played a single mother. She then played a heroin addict in the grim Mercy (2004).

EMILY BLUNT

TAMSIN

My Summer of Love is Emily Blunt’s first feature film. She has, however, had prominent roles in the TV epic Boudica (2003), in which she played Isolda, the ITV mini-series Henry VIII (2003), in which she played Catherine Howard, and a TV remake of Death on the Nile (2004). Her next role will be in the HBO mini-series Empire, an eight-hour epic about the Roman emperor Octavius, in which she plays Camane.

PADDY CONSIDINE

PHIL

Paddy Considine has worked with Pawel Pawlikowski before, in the director’s tale of mistreated refugees, Last Resort (2000). He has also acted in a number of other well-regarded UK films, notably Jim Sheridan’s In America (2002), Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People (2002), and Shane Meadows’ A Room for Romeo Brass (1999). He has, however, had his fair share of less-acclaimed films, including Born Romantic (2000), The Martins (2001), Happy Now (2001) and Dr Sleep (2002). He also appeared in the enigmatically titled My Wrongs 8245-8249 and 117 (2002), a Bafta-winning short from Blue Jam and Brass Eye creator Chris Morris.

More recently he was reunited with Shane Meadows, playing a man bent on violent revenge in Dead Man’s Shoes (2004), a film regarded by some as among the director’s best work, which Considine also co-wrote. Popular as that film has been, however, the attention it has received is likely to be dwarfed by that of Considine’s next project, Ron Howard’s Depression-era boxing epic The Cinderella Man (due to be released in 2005), in which he will appear alongside Russell Crowe and Renée Zellweger.

DEAN ANDREWS

RICKY

Appropriately enough, considering his role in this film, Dean Andrews has experience as a singer on the cabaret, cruise and summer season circuit. Cinemagoers, however, may well remember him better as John Foster in Ken Loach’s trenchant 2001 drama about rail privatisation, The Navigators. His television work includes a part as his namesake Dean in the one-off EastEnders short Ricky and Bianca (2002), and roles in the factory drama Clocking Off (2002), and the prison-based series Buried (2003).

PAWEL PAWLIKOWSKI

DIRECTOR/WRITER

Warsaw-born Pawlikowski came to England with his mother when he was 15 following the breakdown of his parents’ marriage. From the mid-1980s he worked in the BBC’s music and arts department on programmes such as Arena and Bookmark, making documentaries including From Moscow to Pietushki (1990), Serbian Epics (1992), Dostoevsky’s Travels (1992), and Tripping with Zhirinovsky (1995). He followed his first television drama, The Grave Case of Charlie Chaplin (1993), with Twockers (1998), a tale of teenaged car thieves that drew favourable comparisons with the early work of Ken Loach.

It was also in 1998 that his first feature film, The Stringer, a Moscow-set story of Anglo-Russian romance starring Anna Friel, was released. It was less well received than his television work, but he soon made up for that with Last Resort (2000). His second feature film again took on Russian themes, only this time through the topical theme of asylum-seekers in the UK. It won its director, who also co-wrote it, a Bafta for most promising newcomer and a Bafta nomination for best British film.

In the summer of 2002 he famously resigned from Sylvia, starring Gwyneth Paltrow as the poet Sylvia Plath, due to his frustration at the producers not allowing him the time he needed to develop the story through the extensive casting process and intense improvisations that are his trademark.

 
Cinemas

My Summer of Love

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