IN PAWEL Pawlikowski's "My Summer of Love," two young women meet by chance in the Yorkshire countryside and instantly understand they are meant for each other. And the fact that they are from different social classes makes things oddly enticing. Tamsin (Emily Blunt) is a rich, horse-riding bon vivant without a care in the world. Mona (Nathalie Press) is a working-class girl who lives over, and runs, a local pub. They also lapse into an instant hierarchy. Tamsin becomes the alpha female. And Mona, who has never seen a world like Tamsin's, is more than willing to be led around by the heart.
They need each other. Tamsin seems to have no particular authority figure in her life, or anyone else for that matter. She is free but lonely. Mona is hardly experiencing sexual fulfillment with her boyfriend (Dean Andrews), an older, married man who meets her for quick, unsatisfying encounters. And she's in the midst of a stormy situation with her brother and pub-business partner Phil (Paddy Considine). A born-again Christian, he has just transformed the place into a Christian meeting spot. He's also planning to erect an enormous cross on a hill overlooking the village.
Mona makes no secret of her contempt for Phil's faith or those who congregate around him. She remembers only too well Phil's recent past of drunkenness and violence. For her, Tamsin represents more than mere escape. She's offering a whole new life.
The women build a private world between them. No one else is invited in, though everyone is encouraged to watch in shock as they kiss and frolic in public. But when the ever-impetuous Tamsin decides to taunt Phil with a seductive cat-and-mouse game, this romantic paradise begins to crumble. Angry at Tamsin, Phil locks Mona in her bedroom and refuses to let her out. But Mona is a martyr to her cause; she draws pictures of Tamsin on the wall and is determined to get back to her lover. Phil is just as adamant that his sister stop seeing the godless Tamsin. When both experience shocking challenges to their newfound beliefs, there's hell to pay.
Pawlikowski, a Polish filmmaker working in England, has made an urgent, often compelling chamber piece about the lurking forces underneath our finer intentions. And he has the secular temerity to take issue with an evangelical character and pummel him around a little bit. This would come across as idle fundamentalism-bashing if not for the intensely persuasive performance of Considine. As Phil, he ranges from sweetly adorable to darkly confused with alarmingly organic ease; and he keeps the character from completely turning into a caricature. Whether or not Pawlikowski's dark, almost biblical finale brings things to a satisfying conclusion is a matter for debate. But for all its melodramatic excesses, "My Summer" remains highly watchable throughout, for its atmosphere and the actors, especially Considine and Press, who put perhaps more oomph into the story than it deserves. But that power of persuasion is more than enough to make this summer a memorable one.
MY SUMMER OF LOVE (R, 81 minutes) -- Contains sexual scenes, violence and obscenity. At Landmark's Bethesda Row and Loews Cineplex Dupont Circle.