Alice (Gemma Arterton) is a reclusive, curmudgeonly writer, whom the locals refer to as “the witch.” Her writings often pointedly refer to the various ways women have been unfairly portrayed, but what are you going to do?
One day, a young boy named Frank (Lucas Bond) shows up at her door, an evacuee from London to be kept safe during the WW2 blitz. Alice doesn’t like kids. To be fair, it seems to be her general regard toward all humans, but Alice doesn’t want a kid in her house. It’s nothing personal against Frank, she just has work to do and no fucks to give. She reluctantly agrees to house him temporarily, until another family can be found. But pretty much everyone in her small village has already taken in children and she does have a big ole house all to herself.
As Frank begins to worm his way into her heart, we learn that Alice’s self-imposed isolation is the result of a broken heart, a forbidden romance with another woman, Vera (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who is now just a figment of her past, though one that still haunts her. Clearly Alice has lived with only her memories for a long time, but with a real boy as her roommate, she’s brought down to the human realm where there is a war going on and people, such as Frank’s parents, are in real peril.
This film nearly lost me, being just a little too easy, a little too neatly contrived. However, it’s anchored by a performance from Arterton that just floored me. Alice’s naked longing and repressed self-expression are controlled with such precision by Arterton, it’s a remarkable role for her, but she’s actually got some very able costars from a surprising place – the kids. Both Bond and Dixie Egerickz, who plays Frank’s playmate, are wonderful, offering grounded and thoughtful performances considering these kids are growing up in a time where childhood is pretty much non-existent
I remember reading about young war evacuees when I was a kid myself, and I’ve always been fascinated by this ultimate act of mutual aid, adopting a stranger’s child, sheltering them during a difficult time, providing a safe home for kids at risk of dying in air raids in the city. Mothers had to place such trust in the kindness of strangers, and strangers had to step up with very little the way of thanks or even acknowledgment, and kids had to grow up without their parents. There would have been little communication and tonnes to worry about and it seems like such an act of grace in the middle of a literal war. So despite the film’s shortcomings, I still appreciated a window on this particular view, and what a lovely view it was, with lots of sights to behold.