BFI Flare ’21 – Thomas Wilson-White’s Delivers A Slice Of Muted Magic Realism In The Grief-Driven ‘The Greenhouse’

Jane Watt, as Beth in The Greenhouse. A young woman with brown hair tied back, but with strands falling around her face, stands in greenary. Leaves frame her face as she looks into the distance, grief and sadness clear on her face.
Jane Watt as Beth in The Greenhouse

Beth (Jane Watt) lives with her mum Ruth (Camilla Ah Kin) after the death of her other mum Lillian (Rhondda Findleton). While her three adopted siblings have moved on, she still feels stuck in her grief and duty to her mothers. 

The Greenhouse is an exploration of memory and grief. What starts as a standard tale on accepting grief, it soon starts to delve into magic realism. Beth, in a state of insomnia, discovers a greenhouse on the land surrounding their beautiful rural home. Through the mist and the fog, she discovers she has stepped back into her memories. As she walks through memories of her family and her late mother, she picks up little details she missed originally and mourns missed opportunities. 

The Greenhouse has hints of Australian gothic to it, although Wilson-White never leans too much into it. The film is almost exclusively set in a lush but slightly rundown country property, surrounded by a haze of mysterious mist. The more Beth visits the greenhouse, the more its powers bleed into her real life. The gateway to the path is never explained and audiences must decide what they believe is real and what is part of Beth’s grief. 

A lone female figure stands with her back to camera, walking into the mist. Her clothes are barely visible in the dim light - empty branches creep into the frame on the right hand side.
Still from The Greenhouse

Beth finds herself getting more and more entranced with spending time with this mysterious portal. Not only can she relive her time with her mother, but she can also face the parts of her she had hidden away, even from herself. Like every time travel saga, Beth’s obsession with the past is robbing her of her present and potentially her future. No matter how many visits to the greenhouse, nothing will bring back Beth’s loved ones and nothing will take back the things she wished she hadn’t said.

Queerness is effortlessly weaved through this film. With lesbian mothers, a gay son and a closeted daughter, LBGTQ identity is the undercurrent to the grief. Beth’s two mothers are never used as a gimmick, instead it is wonderfully normalised. Beth is the most reserved member of her often wild and very liberal family. This drama excels in showing that sexuality and coming out can still be complicated, no matter how supportive your family is. 

The Greenhouse is a slow-moving narrative, drifting in and out of memories. The lead character is numb, and audiences may also mirror that numbness in this sometimes-plodding movie. It’s quiet, even when the themes are so big. The sound, the cinematherapy and the performances all feel very paired down and earthed. Thomas Wilson-White has made a clear decision to downplay any of the conflict, muting down moments that would become overly sentimental in the hands of another director.

Your opinion of The Greenhouse will likely change as it switches vibe, suddenly embracing its sci-fi genre as it finds a boost of energy in the third act If you were enjoying the gentile and muted nature of the narrative, you may be disappointed in the rather obvious ending. The Greenhouse understands that everything becomes muted in grief. Details are examined but big concepts are ignored and everything becomes underwhelming and too small, both for the characters and for the audience. Its sombre tone and lack of lightness weighs down a poignant narrative. Whilst these themes mirror the pain of losing a loved one, it doesn’t make for the most exciting movie.

by Amelia Harvey

Amelia is a freelance writer, frustrated novelist and occasional wrangling of international students. She is especially interested in LBGTQ culture and 1960s and 70s music. She also writes for Frame Rated, The People’s Movies and Unkempt Magazine, amongst others. Her favourite films include Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Moulin Rouge and Closer. You can find her on Twitter @MissAmeliaNancy and letterboxd @amelianancy

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