Saturday 24 September 2016

Flowered up: "Dare To Be Wild"

The new Irish biopic Dare To Be Wild would appear to be one of those instances where a filmmaker thought her subject matter justified an altogether florid approach. This is the life story of Mary Reynolds (Emma Greenwood), the young landscape designer who - as Vivienne de Courcy's film would have it - overcame the odds and rank institutional snobbery to take the top prize at the Chelsea Flower Show. (When, exactly, is left unclear by a rare biopic to shy away from onscreen dates; the action here unfolds not in our world, but in romcomland, which sets one to questioning the veracity of its other developments.) First and biggest problem: horticulture - even, really, competitive horticulture - does not in itself make for gripping cinema. While we wait for the grass to grow and Chelsea to come round, there's a lot of our Mary lying down in fields and pointing out trees, which is educational but not especially entertaining; her creative struggles (exploitative bosses, financial penury, the greenhouse's glass ceiling) are more often explained than dramatised.

For the most part, the film determines never to take its heroine's achievements or vision seriously. Some very limp light comedy is wrung from the misadventures of Mary's oddbod crew, while there's a Mills & Boony romance with Tom Hughes as a violinist/wildflower expert who sporadically floats down from the treehouse he sleeps in to catch our girl when she faints. (Amazingly, an end title card suggests he's based on an actual living person.) Reducing Hughes to a pair of supportive cheekbones is typical of de Courcy's approach to actors: Greenwood, lively in Whit Stillman's Love & Friendship earlier this summer, is mostly deployed as a mouthpiece for greenspeak, while Alex MacQueen is enlisted to serve, somewhat inevitably, as the posh Nigel who represents all the worst, most entrenched beliefs of the British establishment. A mid-film Ethiopian diversion is attractively shot, and de Courcy retains the very best of intentions with regard to the planet, but the whole emerges as perhaps the first homegrown production to be both carbon and dramatically neutral: leaving no trace of itself behind, this version of the Reynolds story remains a hopelessly weedy proposition, no matter how much horseshit the filmmaker shovels on top of it.

Dare to be Wild is now playing in cinemas nationwide. 

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