“Summer in February”: Downton Abbey Star by the Sea–with Munnings, Horses and Art

Actor Dan Stevens

Will Dan Stevens find it easier when he only has to compete against the world's greatest painter of horses to win the woman he loves? Here's the star of Downton Abbey at the races in his upcoming film, "Summer in February".

Admit it: you secretly don’t want the bumps in the incestuous romance between Downton Abbey‘s Matthew and Mary Crawley to end. Watching Matthew fall down and get back up, week after week, is more interesting than “happily ever after” could be. If only he’d show up on horseback more often…

In 2013, fans of the lavish PBS series Downton Abbey may have to get up from the couch and head to the local cinema to see a new film that combines the glorious fashion and elegance of the pre-World War I years in Britain with an icon of the equestrian world. Mix in the appeal of the actor who plays the romantic Matthew Crawley on the PBS series and you can see why ears are going up around the world.

Dominic Cooper, Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley on Downton Abbey) and Emily Browning star in the passionate and tragic true story of love among the artists residing in a picturesque fishing village in Cornwall. And the artist isn’t just any artist–it’s Sir Alfred Munnings, whom many consider the finest painter of horses in history.

The artists have gathered together to paint out in the “plein air” but they seem to spend a lot of time having parties. Munnings has a predilection for reciting poetry, as long as people are listening–who knew?

The film is based on a book by the same name; its author, Jonathan Smith, found the principle character’s diary documenting the story; it inspired him to write the book

The film was shot exactly where the story happened, as well as up and down the coast around Penzance, and is now in post-production; it will premiere next year.

"Summer in February" filming

Horses get to gallop on the beach in the new film "Summer in February"

Dan Stevens admitted to having to do some remedial equestrian work to prepare for the role, which includes at least one good gallop on the beach.

The Cambridge graduate, who has been in New York this month for a Broadway performance, is no stranger to horses; few people know that he is the narrator of the original audio version of War Horse by Michael Morpurgo. It was shortlisted for “Audiobook of the Year 2010″. He also rode in the BBC’s production of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility in 2007, after which he remarked, “It was brilliant – I wish there were more situations in life where I could pull up on a horse and announce something.”

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In this snippet of citizen video shot while waiting for filming to begin on location, you see Dan Stevens and Dominic Cooper prepped for their day at the races. Notice the gypsy caravan in the background; Munnings painted gypsies–and their ponies and caravans. He even owned a caravan and hired a gypsy boy to drive him around so he could paint.

Few stills are available so we don’t know if the script called for Emily Browning to actually ride sidesaddle; the real-life Munnings painted her character riding his own horse, Merrilegs, in the famous painting, “The Morning Ride”, which graces the cover of the book.

Horses are what Munnings painted, to be sure, but this film will be much more of a love story than a horse story. Maybe horses will be the background, and if they’re anything like the ones Munnings painted, they’ll be beautiful.

A new copy of Summer in February is hard to find in the USA but you probably have time to order one from a British bookseller between now and Christmas, or you can download the Kindle version. The book will surely be reissued before the premiere but for now all you can find are a few copies of the 1996 edition, both new and used.

A copy of Summer in February would make a great gift for anyone who loves horses, art, Downton Abbey–or all three. Or buy it for yourself–you know you want to. Just don’t ever tell anyone how it ends.

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