Warning: this is very spoilery so if you came here via a search engine looking for my review, and haven’t seen the film yet, you can read it here.
I said at the end of my review that everything is tied up very neatly. It’s not coincidence – that’s made clear – but it is reassuringly complete.
Though you could argue that in some ways the ending does actually play into the idea of a different reality, where happy endings really exist – a bit like Frank’s need, as a boy, for Summerland.
The big twist is that Vera is Frank’s mother – Alice finds a box of his photos including several of Vera. She had deliberately requested that Alice look after Frank.
Alice changes her mind about sending Frank to another family after a week, but my god she takes it to the wire.
Then Frank’s dad dies when his aircraft carrier is sunk; it’s Frank’s birthday and Alice can’t bear to tell him his father is missing, leading to him finding out in the worst way. He runs away to London on the train, with a frantic Alice following in her car, and goes to the house he shared with his mother. By the time he arrives it’s dark and the house is in ruins after a bomb strike. Alice is not far behind, and the two then have to hide in a public air raid shelter, convinced his mother has been killed.
Vera then turns up at Alice’s cottage, and we flash forward to 1975 again. The two women (older Vera is played by Martina Laird) are still together and still living in the cottage. Alice finishes typing up her book In Search Of Summerland and they walk down to the shore where Frank is. Alice gives him her book.
So it was all planned. Not only that, we discover that in order to discover Alice’s whereabouts, Vera had gone into over 20 bookshops looking for her work (presumably she wrote to Alice’s publisher to track her down).
I did feel sorry for Frank’s dad, conveniently out of the way so Vera and Alice could be together. (Yes, I know it isn’t real.)
I didn’t have room to discuss it in my review but I thought Vera’s love of living life at full pelt in the 1920s matched how many people faced the war. It’s partly an embracing of the unpredictability of life (Vera must have known from the beginning she would end her relationship with Alice to become a mother) and partly laughing in its face.
And tangentially related, I do like it when older versions of characters are played by older actors rather than the younger actor in elaborate wrinkly make-up and a tatty cardigan. More jobs to go round, and more work for older performers, can only be a good thing.
The background to the Fata Morgana was fascinating – I’m sure some of you are googling them as much as me now – and made a welcome change from the kind of folklore explaining that we’ve heard before. (I am off to the coast soon and will look out for a floating island in the sky, though I suspect all I’ll get is a blimp balloon advertising a local furniture warehouse.)