A still from the new film Summer in February, starring Hattie Morahan.

LONDON - One of the unsung champions of 20th-century art was an old soldier who never picked up a paintbrush. In the opening years of the century, Colonel Paynter, a Boer War veteran and Cornish estate owner, established an artistic colony in Lamorna on the Lizard Peninsula, an artistic enclave that is now the subject of a new film, Summer in February.
At the London premiere this week, I savored the lush west country coves and the dramatic love lives of the roughing-it future stars of the Royal Academy: Paynter’s painters included AJ Munnings and Laura Knight.
At the after-show party at the Halycon Gallery, opposite Sotheby’s New Bond Street rooms, I spoke to the delightful Hattie Morahan, who plays Laura Knight, about the process of researching the connoisseur of shimmering cliffs and barreling breakers.

Did you appreciate Laura Knight’s pictures when you took the part?

I thought they were beautiful. I’ve never studied art history but in my head I imagine it as some sort of English Impressionism, that sense of the outdoors and feeling very alive and spontaneous and fresh. So I knew those paintings more than I knew her print works. Her repertoire was so vast and so changing.
Did you come to any conclusions about the complicated friendship between Knight and Munnings detailed in the film?

The impression you get from talking to relations of hers and reading works by people who knew them, but also reading what she had to say, was that she absolutely adored him as a human being and a spirit and found it so contagious that she was totally swept up in it and I think probably found a soul mate. But I don’t mean anything more than that.
Do you think those kind of bohemian communities exist now?
Absolutely. One hears of places in Sussex like Lewes. I’m sure it’s just to do with individuals making connections. I don’t know if there are any movements associated with a particular place.

And so when you make your millions are you going to buy a Laura Knight?

I’d love to! Yes. I love the way you say “when” rather than “if”!