Cathy Butler smells the roses in Dare to be Wild, which screened as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.
Landscape design is not a subject frequently examined in cinema, and the premise of Vivienne De Courcy’s Dare to be Wild certainly instils curiosity; based on the true story of Irish garden designer Mary Reynolds, it follows her quest to win the gold medal at the Chelsea Flower Show.
Mary (Emma Greenwell) is a young Irish woman with a passion for nature and gardens, and is looking to break into the world of garden design. She gets her first opportunity with ‘celebrity garden designer’ Charlotte Heavey (Christine Marzano), which eventually turns sour when she finds herself robbed of original work and out of a job. Not to be defeated, she bounces back with a determination to take home the winning prize at the esteemed Chelsea Flower Show, despite all obstacles. On her way she meets and falls for heart-throb botanist Christy (Tom Hughes), eventually following him on a trip to Ethiopia, to win his heart as well as the aid of his botany skills.
The curious mix of landscaping and love story could have been charming, but somewhat misses the mark tonally. De Courcy gives the story the epic treatment, putting the love story at its core, and surrounding it with stunning shots of sweeping landscapes. While Mary’s cause is noble, it is hard to get on board with the high drama when it is centred around a topic such as garden design. Mary wants Christy to help with her garden instead of focusing on the much-needed irrigation projects he is installing in Ethiopia. When he objects, it seems reasonable – his is the more important task. Mary, though well intentioned, comes across as naïve in comparison. Yet she brings Christy around to her way of thinking; it is a love-conquers-all narrative, no matter how impractical.
The film’s central message is reiterated time and again throughout – the importance of the wild and wild nature, and the connection between man and the environment. It is a feel good film, with an ecological message running through it, but it may have benefitted from a more scaled back tone. Visually, the film is stunning. Never has Ireland looked so colourful and inexplicably sunny as it has in this film. The Ethiopian sequences are equally beautifully shot, and the scenes in Chelsea are a bombardment of colour. Costume design is also particularly notable here, with Mary having quite the enviable wardrobe, even when broke and unemployed!
There are elements of ‘Celtic mysticism’ and Ireland’s fairy lore contained within the film, which may come across as twee to Irish audiences, but would likely go down well internationally.
Dare to be Wild is a visual feast, but perhaps a bit too epic for this viewer.
Dare to be Wild screened on Thursday, 26th March 2015 at the Light House Cinema as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.