Genre: Biography, Drama, Romance
Directed by: Vivienne De Courcy
Starring: Emma Greenwell, Tom Hughes, Alex Macqueen
Cinema is fond of examining niche subcultures for comic and dramatic effect, yet horticulture has never really been of interest to the silver screen. So, a film based on the true story of Mary Reynolds, the youngest recipient of a Chelsea Flower Show Gold Medal, on paper sounds like an interesting premise.
Emma Greenwall’s Mary is a newbie to the landscaping world but has a book bursting with stunning designs, inspired by the Irish landscape she calls home. Adamant to make her mark on the horticultural map, Mary interns with Christine Marzano’s Charlotte Heavey, a garden designer to the wealthy. Yet, Mary gets a rude awakening to the (surprisingly) cutthroat world of garden design, when Charlotte claims her designs to herself. Driven by passion and desire to inject some wilderness into the sterile, clean designs of modern gardening, Mary signs up to the Royal Chelsea Flower Show with her eyes firmly set on the number one prize.
There is probably a reason why garden landscaping has never been the centre point for a film – it’s not very cinematic. Vivenne De Courcy does her best to make everything look stunning; the director makes Ireland brim with colour, while Ethiopia works as a beautiful backdrop to the laboured second act, and De Courcy manages to make the Flower Show a more appealing affair than the BBC have ever done. Yet, there is no escaping how dull some of the subject matter is. When the script ventures into the spiritual it’s the weaker for it. Discussions of fairies and praying to the gods of thorn trees is cringe-worthy instead of romantic, making you feel sorry for the poor actors who have to deliver this drivel.With such weak subject matter, it’s surprising how much fun Greenwall has with it all. She completely encapsulates the film’s sense of wild abandon, giving the script the boost it so desperately needs. Tom Hughes’ Christy is a rockstar violinist-cumbotanist-cum-spiritualist who works to fight desertification in Ethiopia but comes across more like someone on a gap yah than someone genuinely concerned for nature. Despite De Courcy’s best efforts, the love story between Mary and Christy isn’t believable; for a film so obsessed with nature, it’s disappointing that the central relationship never feels organic.
One of the debut director’s biggest blunders, however, is the uneven and ever changing tonal shifts that litter the film. Everything plays out episodically, making it all feel like an ITV Sunday television show rather than the sweet romance film the director is clearly aspiring for. The film’s attempt at comedy is a mixed bag, some land while others feel awkward and unnecessary. There’s a Prince Charles cameo that sounds and looks like it would be better suited on a sketch show.
Yet for all it’s flaws Dare to be Wild is never unlikeable, the cinematography is as stunning as the flowers it captures and while the central couple may not be romantically believable, they make up for it in likeability. You will guess the ending simply based on how cliché it is but after all, this is a true story. It’s just disappointing that the true story never gets the film it deserves. Maybe an Alan Titchmarsh biopic is the garden landscaping film cinema is crying out for.