Sometimes, as an entertainment journalist with a bit of a readership, you just feel the urge to advocate for a particular project. You want everyone possible to see a gem of a film, read a book, or listen to that CD that’s never had much of a distribution network to speak of, even if that hidden jewel has been out for a few years.
Actor Robert Carlyle (currently starring in Once Upon a Time as Rumpelstiltskin) has a long history of making little, low-budget, but incredibly well-made films. (The Full Monty, featuring Carlyle’s breakout performance as Gaz began as one of those little films).
Lamenting a couple of years ago about the state of independent film in the U.K., Carlyle noted the difficulty of finance and distribution for the well-made, low-budget fare that has been always been his passion. Case in point is the understated 2008 British film Summer, a wonderful, gorgeously shot and flawlessly-acted character study, that, as Carlyle has noted, has only been seen by a handful of people. Not even available on DVD in the North America, it is a terrible shame that the movie has been seen by so few.
Director Kenneth Glenaan’s quiet and introspective film is the story of friendship, guilt, the costs of terrible childhood mistakes, and ultimately redemption. The film unfolds through Shaun’s (Carlyle) sad, soulful eyes as we learn why he has become the caregiver of his childhood best friend, the bitter, wheelchair-bound Daz (Steve Evets). Sharing a flat in run down working class area along with Daz’s teenage son Daniel (Michael Socha), they have nothing to live on by Daz’s disability check and Shaun’s earnings as a petrol station clerk.
When we meet them, Daz is dying of liver cirrhosis and acute kidney failure with only weeks to live. Shaun attends to Daz’s many needs, from cleaning house to bathing him; he also looks after Daniel, trying to keep him out of trouble.
How Shaun and Daz get to this place in their lives is revealed as Shaun reflects on life and on the terrible mistakes of youth that cost him so much. It is a lifetime of regret, played out through flashbacks of Shaun’s best—and most tragic—summer as a teen. We catch him gazing through the years—and one summer in particular—as if through a picture window, longing to go back, but stuck here on the other side.
As the movie unfolds often through Shaun’s memories of his youth, you understand the heartbreaking toll one mistake can take on the lives of two men. But it is not only their error.
Shaun (Sean Kelly, playing him as a teenager) is an intelligent, sensitive, but slightly wild kid in love with Katy (Joanna Tulej, as the teenage Katy), the smartest girl in his class. Dyslexic, Shaun is constantly frustrated in school by what he cannot accomplish and a writing hand he cannot properly control with his brain. Classified as “slow,” with a low IQ, Shaun slips through the cracks in a system that has no clue what to do with him—or the means (or desire) to help him.
Tormented by his classmates, Shaun’s frustration builds until it boils over into an act that marks the bullied Shaun as the bully. And as time goes on, he turns his frustrated destructiveness on himself. A series of events unfold over one summer that leads both Shaun and Daz to the place we find them so many years later.
Daz is now a bitter, broken man, whose had enough with life; Shaun cannot escape the past, but part of him lives within its best moments: hanging around with his best friend and girlfriend; discovering love, and enjoying friendship. It was, as he acknowledges so many years later to Katy (Rachael Blake), the best summer of his life.
Carlyle has played many down-on-their luck men throughout his distinguished career, some of whom seek redemption, and others clinging to violence and mayhem. His BAFTA (Scotland)-nominated portrayal of Shaun is beautifully understated and heartbreaking, particularly in his reaction to Daz’s death. The other performances are also brilliant.
Winner of the 2008 BAFTA (Scotland) Best Picture Award, Summer is an incredibly moving film. Although it would seem to be bleak (yes, tissues are not optional), it is an ultimately redemptive portrait.
Unfortunately, Summer is not readily available in the U.S.; however, you can find the DVD at Amazon’s U.K. store (but only in a Region 2 version). It is available for streaming on MovieBerry (as are many other difficult to find films). It is the sort of movie that might pop up on IFC or Sundance, and perhaps, with Carlyle’s U.S. fanbase growing (with the recent Stargate Universe series, and now with Once Upon a Time), who knows? We might eventually see a release of Summer on our shores.
Robert Carlyle and director Kenneth Glenaan discuss making Summer: