BFI Flare film review: The Greenhouse
Katherine McLaughlin | On 22, Mar 2021
Director: Thomas Wilson-White
Cast: Jane Watt, Rhondda Findleton
Watch The Greenhouse online in the UK: BFI Flare
“Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it,” wrote Joan Didion in The Year of Magical Thinking – a book about losing her husband John Gregory Dunne and in which she replays and analyses the moments leading up to his death. For Beth Tweedy-Bell (Jane Watt), the main character in Australian writer-director Thomas Wilson-White’s feature debut, that place is the greenhouse in her family home which transports her to the past and a whole host of painful memories as she deals with the death of her mother, Lillian (Rhondda Findleton).
This beautifully judged and engrossing time-travel drama uses its sci-fi spin to explore grief, regret, family dynamics and closeted romance. It’s not interested in confusing the viewer with overloaded exposition on the logistics of its transtemporal realities; it’s a film that aims straight for the heart of the matter as it crosses thresholds to examine a bunch of ‘what if’s and that thing called love.
An emotive performance from Watt in the lead role complements the talented ensemble cast as they bounce off one another over enjoyable dinner table discussions and family gatherings. Beth’s internal feelings towards her sexuality, and her fear of the outside world’s reaction to a family raised by a same sex couple are brought to life through dreamy and nightmarish visuals. Her relationships with her siblings and a love interest create a further disorienting mood as she revisits seminal coming-of-age moments, bad memories, fleeting seconds of regret and comes face to face with the mother she lost. It’s this confrontation, and the terror that her mother didn’t know how much she loved and appreciated her, that gives the film real emotional wallop.
The first-time filmmaker crafts an inviting ambience with humour and hospitable human interactions, gently lulling the viewer into the warmth of the family hearth before whipping away this sense of security with melancholic confusion and Daniel Bolt’s otherworldly cinematography. The splendid setting and surrounding woodlands, at first attractive, eventually morph into a vicious environment as Beth gets stuck in her grief.
The Greenhouse presents a gorgeous snapshot of family life rarely depicted on screen while also digging deeper to reveal hidden anxieties. The fantasy elements, and use of lush greenery to reflect love and nurturing, is reminiscent of the way Mamoru Hosoda’s Mirai sensitively fused life’s insecurities with family dynamics. Director Wilson-White displays wisdom beyond his years with a poetic and insightful sci-fi drama that may just have you reaching for the tissues.
The Greenhouse is available to stream at BFI Flare until Sunday 28th March. Book tickets here