Review: My First Summer

Written and directed by Katie Found, Claudia has been brought up in isolation by her mother in a remote rural home miles away from the nearest town. Emotionally unequipped to cope with her mother’s suicide, Claudia hides in her ramshackle old house, her beloved dog her only company until the spirited Grace breezes into her life. Starring: Markella Kavenagh, Maiah Stewardson, Steve Mouzakis, Arthur Angel, Katherine Tonkin, Edwina Wren and Harvey Zielinski.

Starting out, this film doesn’t feel like it’s going at all in the direction of romance but it’s a gentle tale that slowly blossoms and reveals itself to be much more than you might originally think. Its opening almost has a dreamlike quality, the mix of isolation with nature makes it feel as though Claudia has been living within her own reality, cut off from the rest of the world. The direction gives it a very loving atmosphere, generous and sweet. It capitalises on how youthful its story is and lets Claudia and Grace take the entire focus, which you can’t help but to be swept up by. The cinematography captures the idyllic location and adds a genuine warmth and hope against the inherent sadness to its story.

Right from the start you can get a sense of how great Found’s writing is, it’s naturally funny and cute, it flows very easily with a unique charm. The story moves well, the threat of their eventual discovery is there although it could have been stronger and it’s ultimately given a very easy resolution that doesn’t entirely do justice to what it had built up until then. However, it certainly captures the sweetness and naivety, not only from Claudia’s sheltered existence but the classic emotions that come with a first love. The relationship that they build between the two of them starts out very innocently and grows gradually, starting with friendship then creating a larger bond. It particularly captures the feelings that come with shared first experiences, creating small, special moments.

Markella Kavenagh gives an impressive performance as Claudia, it’s not easy to portray such innocence and isolation convincingly and genuinely but she feels utterly natural. She gets across the larger qualities to her, her intelligence, curiosity and brave nature while keeping it understated. Pairing her with Maiah Stewardson was a great piece of casting, not only does she bring a strong, individual personality to Grace, they’re also effortless to watch together. The film focuses on them so succinctly that it allows everything else to fade away and you’re entirely wrapped up in their blossoming relationship, it’s a little bit awkward, innocent and very sweet.

My First Summer is an unexpected gem, what feels like a very unlikely romance in the beginning becomes a beguiling, adorable journey. Found’s direction and writing perfectly capture that feeling of new experiences, emotions and connections, she brings a strong youth and warmth to the story. It has a very gentle and loving atmosphere that you can’t help but to be swept up with, perfectly encapsulating the essence of first loves.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯

Reviewed as part of BFI Flare – Available to watch on BFI Player until 28th March

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