The director of BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW sweeps audiences up this time in a doomed love story on the moors in A SUMMER STORY, on DVD from Scorpion Releasing.
Just out of college, aspiring poet Frank (James Wilby, HOWARD'S END) and his pal Garton (Harry Burton, BLACKWOOD) are hiking across Dartmoor when Frank sprains his ankle hopping a gate. This leads to a chance meeting with beautiful farm girl Megan (Imogen Stubbs, ERIK THE VIKING), the niece of widow Mrs. Narracombe (Susannah York, THE AWAKENING) who rents a room to them. Frank is thoroughly enchanted by Megan while Garton's interests are baser. It only takes one night in the household for Garton to grow bored and decide to head back to London, but Frank extends his stay while his ankle mends. During his stay, he attempts to get closer to Megan and finds his affections returned despite being informally betrothed to Mrs. Narracombe's son Joe (GAME OF THRONES' Jerome Flynn). They meet secretly nightly seemingly – in the barn, the stream, the fields – until Joe's jealousy boils over and Mrs. Narracombe asks him to leave (in a roundabout manner). Frank vows to take Megan away with him, and he arranges to go to Torquay and make arrangements while she is to slip away the next day while visiting her supportive friend Betsy (Sukie Smith, THE WITCHES) where he will meet her. When Frank reaches Torquay, he finds that he is unable to withdraw money from the bank without someone local to vouch for him or a telegram from his regular branch. As he waits for the telegram, he runs into school friend Phil Halliday (John Elmes, MAURICE) who is visiting the seaside with his lovely sister Stella (Sophie Ward, THE HAUNTING OF JULIA) along with their two younger sisters Sabina (Camilla Power) and Freda (Juliette Fleming) who are recovering from a bout of measles. As Frank presses on with his arrangements, he passes the time politely with the Hallidays (even rescuing Phil from drowning at the beach). Megan remains outwardly steadfast in her faith in Frank and goes to Torquay in search of him; but Frank has started to experience doubt (and especially when Stella seems so charming and concerned).
Based on the novella "The Apple Tree" by John Galsworthy, A SUMMER STORY is a gorgeous period piece with darkly gorgeous cinematography by Kenneth MacMillan (Branagh's HENRY V) – with an emphasis on the contrast of vibrant green landscapes with grey skies and blue-gelled moonlight with warm candlelight – and the score of Georges Delerue (WOMEN IN LOVE) is one of the most moving of his later career; and yet, it can't help but feel more than a bit sub-Merchant-Ivory in its relatively intimate scope and superficial treatment of the characters' psyches. Where director Piers Haggard (BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW) – grandson of writer H. Rider Haggard (KING SOLOMAN'S MINES) – is most successful in its atmospheric realization of its romantic settings. Wilby perfectly embodies the slightly priggish romantic youth who can never quite let slip his English gentlemanliness even as he imposes himself upon others. In the end, he is not so much a cad as an impetuous youth who gets caught up in romanticism but caves to societal conventions. Breathtaking Stubbs is better as a country girl at first realistic about her station and how grateful she should be for being taken in by her aunt, but who soon gets swept up in love. Ward (perhaps restrained to contrast her character with that of Stubbs') and York are both rather wasted despite prominent characters and billing, with Burton, Flynn, Elmes, and particularly Kenneth Colley (LIFE OF BRIAN) – as a sage and particularly observant farmhand – given more to make an impression with their limited screen time.
Released theatrically stateside by Atlantic Releasing Corporation and then on videotape by Media Home Entertainment, A SUMMER STORY is presented on Scorpion's single-layer, progressive, anamorphic DVD in an attractive anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer. The Dolby Digital 2.0 rendering of the restrained Dolby Stereo mix is clean with Delerue's score getting the most depth apart from a few atmospheric sounds. There are no extras except for trailers for QUEST FOR LOVE, WOMBLING FREE, BLOOD FEUD, THE DIRT BIKE KID, SAY HELLO TO YESTERDAY, and FOOLS. As with Scorpion's other ITV acquisitions, A SUMMER STORY is coded for Region 1 playback only. (Eric Cotenas)
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