Saltburn and the allure of the English summer

If, like me, you are : 

  1. Fighting off the Michaelmas blues
  2. In love with Jacob Elordi and/or Barry Keoghan and/or Rosamund Pike
  3. Someone who enjoys watching films
  4. Bored  

 Then you might have braved a trip to the flicks in the last few weeks to see one of this year’s hotly anticipated films, Saltburn. Directed by Emerald Fennell and bragging a gorgeous cast (as previously mentioned), Saltburn tells the story of Oliver, a student at Oxford University in the early 2000s and his subsequent golden summer at a wealthy friend’s estate, the eponymous Saltburn.  

The portrayal of summer in film and literature is no new thing. Books and films like The Great Gatsby, The Go-Between and The Cement Garden have been pivotal in presenting the allure of the summer in fictional media. But something about the English summer, in particular, is captivating.  

Having lived in England my whole life, summertime is ciders at the beach, bare feet, salty hair and long walks at dusk. And somehow, films and novels about summer are the things that get me through the long winter months and back to June. Despite the depravity portrayed in Saltburn, it still has that summer glow which seems to levy the sense of danger.  

In media depicting summer, part of what makes the allure is the feeling of inevitability, of nostalgia, of everything being okay because the sun is out. Granted, this often has adverse consequences as demonstrated by Saltburn but also by books such as the 1953 novel The Go-Between in which a 12-year-old boy becomes embroiled in a love affair involving his host’s older sister.  

However, even when readers are again and again taken into the aesthetics of a dangerous summer and repeatedly, we see the outcomes (almost always negative – another great example is the 1978 novel The Cement Garden), the audience are still entertained. What these pieces of media capture so beautifully is how summer, particularly an English one, provides the perfect setting for bad decisions.  

Summer exists almost as its own liminal state – a period halfway through the calendar year when the weather is elevated, school is suspended and things that are usually impossible feel possible. In Saltburn we can see the turn of impossibility through the protagonist – Oliver Quick’s – chance to experience the aristocratic lifestyle through his invitation to Saltburn. Thus, he is enveloped into the upper-class world for the fleeting months of summer. Similarly, in The Go-Between our protagonist, Leo, has the same class transportation.  

Class is often heavily entwined with depictions of English summer. This is probably due to how stratified our class system is and has been for hundreds of years, dating right back to the feudal system. The feeling of possibility generated by summer is heightened in England, where, for a few “lucky” protagonists, summer provides them the opportunity to break free of dividing class structures.  

This sense of freedom that summer gives us is seen as a good thing, and therefore, must come to an end. The liminality of summer is only effective because of its short time span and the long, hot days can only last so long. Unfortunately, in media portraying English summer, the end of summer often signals a descent into anarchy and a break in the lovely hot weather (for a great book like this, check out Penelope Lively’s Heatwave).  

Maybe we are so attracted to the English summertime in the media because it allows us to experience that sense of fleeting freedom without us actually having to follow through on the inevitable fall out as summer ends. 

Anyways, if you’re on the hunt for a good, albeit slightly disturbing escape this winter, check out Saltburn.  



 Image :Tim Alex on Unsplash 


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