The Greenhouse- BFI Flare 2021 Movie Review

The Greenhouse

Written and Directed by Thomas Wilson- White

Starring- Jane Watt, Kirsty Marillier, Joel Harwood, Shiv Palekar, Rhonda Findleton and Camilla Ah Kin

More BFI Flare 2021 coverage here

If you found a portal to the past, would you ever want to leave?

Since the death of her mother Lillian (Rhonda Findleton), Beth has been unable to move on both figuratively and literally. She stayed at home with her, now widowed mother Ruth (Camilla Ah Kin), whilst her three siblings moved on with their lives, fell in love and pursued their dreams. On the eve of Ruth’s 60th birthday, Beth discovers a portal to the past in the forest by her home. She soon becomes addicted to that place and the memories, oblivious to the danger that lay ahead. 

Family dynamics

Beth is the typical big sister, she feels thew eight of the whole family and puts it on her self to arrange everything. Whilst also trying to control everything and ignoring offers of help from her siblings. Beth, bless her is not handling things well, she really needs to be reminded that she hasn’t got to deal with everything alone. Something she does eventually come to realise. 

Fantasy family drama in The Greenhouse

Admittedly, I was not sure what to expect from The Greenhouse, it’s a mixture of family drama but with some fantasy? It felt more like a sort of magic realism. We don’t dwell on the practicalities of this portal to the past, just the experiences held within. It’s so dreamlike and hazy it is easy to just accept the portal as one of those unexplainable things.

Where The Greenhouse really shines is in the family dynamics. The four siblings have electric energy, squabbling and needling each other that feels so familiar to anyone with siblings. They know exactly how to wound with just their words. The relationships come to ahead and once the ugly truths are finally out in the open, the healing and rebuilding can start. 

The Greenhouse is filmed beautifully. There is such a muted feel to some of the scenes, everything feels darkened by Beth’s grief. The glimpses into the past and memories are heartbreaking and heartwarming. We see the family growing up, family dinners and happier family times. But whilst there is so much joy, there is anger and regret. Harsh words spat in the heat of the moment that can never be taken back. In the misty snapshots of the past, we see Beth arguing with her late mother, one particular conversation really packs a punch and demonstrates why Beth was so resolute in staying home. We also see somethings Beth’s trying to keep hidden, mainly from herself, it’s these feelings and this heartbreak that really feeds into her anger.

Not as safe as it seems

There is a sense of horror lingering throughout the portal scenes. The forest in particular with the vast trees and the rolling mist. We’re lulled into a sense of security with the memories, but there is something lurking in these shadows. One particular daydream turns very sinister as Beth falls asleep under a tree. The action and tension escalate rapidly and forces the siblings to rely on each other to navigate the past and return to the present. 

Representation and diversity

Sexuality and representation are effortlessly woven into the narrative. There is no big reveal, it’s just accepted as the families dynamics. Sexuality is not the point of the main focus of this film. The focus is love, love of your partners and the love of your family and of grief. It is refreshing to see these universal feelings and pivotal moments in our lives delivered on-screen by a diverse cast. 

Exploration of grief and responsibility

The Greenhouse is a beautiful, poignant exploration of grief, family, loss and what it is to move on. It feels like a true labour of love and like we are seeing something that is deeply personal to the filmmaker. It is not always an easy watch and at times it is downright heartbreaking but it ends with a feeling of catharsis and freedom. There is definitely room in cinema for more of these generations stories with such diversity from the cast. 

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