The film is staged in three eras. The first, between the wars when Alice and her best friend Vera are learning to be authors, the second during WWII when Alice is living alone writing books and the third 30 years later as we see Alice still in that cottage typing away.
Gemma Arterton (The Girl with All the Gifts, Quantum of Solace) plays Alice, who has a local reputation for being a grumpy and miserable witch during WWII and reluctantly takes in the small boy who's mother is working in London and father is serving in the armed forces. Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Belle, Motherless Brooklyn, The Morning Show) plays her best friend from the past who Alice has lost touch with by then.
Alice comes across as a bitter young woman with no time for anyone but herself. She is rude to everyone that she has to come into contact with, but as the relationship develops with the evacuee Frank, played by virtual newcomer Lucas Bond, we see a warmer side to Alice and start to learn the truth about why she is so glum. As we flash forward to the present in 1975, Penelope Wilton (Ever Decreasing Circles, After Life) plays Alice who is by then getting older and reflecting on her life as the story is rounded up.
All the players perform their parts excellently, but in particular the two leads, Arterton and Bond. The small boy demonstrates some real talent when called on to show a range of emotions and reactions to the events. Arterton is hugely unlikable to begin with but the audience is swung around as she appears to warm. Tom Courtenay (Quartet, Billy Liar, Dad's Army) pops up as the school's headmaster bringing some depth and experience.
I won't give anything more away of the story-line so as to save any spoilers for those who wish to see it, but it's a beautifully delivered tale of love, regret, hope and reflection with some distinct demonstrations regarding the social attitudes of the era towards what was considered right and decent. We've seen many films like this before of course. The BBC were champions at turning them out, but this, even though slow and thoughtful, does have a good story to follow with some unexpected meanderings.
The sets are mostly 1940's England and the costumes reflect that nicely, as do the sets. The scenery is at times lovely and shot well as the cast spends some of the time on the coast alongside the white cliffs of the south of England. It's a lovely rainy Saturday afternoon film to watch, so grab a cup of tea, put your feet up and enjoy!