Thomas Wilson-White’s The Greenhouse is a film that is essential viewing. Anyone who has lost a parent or loved one will hit you hard, but in the most beautiful of ways. Hauntingly brilliant.
Grieving her mother Lillian’s loss, Beth (Jane Watt) stumbles across a portal to the past where she can revisit happier times but soon finds it hard to stay away. As her three younger siblings return home for a family celebration, Beth escapes the eldest’s pressure by spending more time travelling through the portal. Swept away by bittersweet memories – of both her mums being alive and her own tentative steps towards love with best friend Lauren – Beth can’t see the danger that lurks beneath the surface of this magical place until it’s too late.
At times it mistakenly feels as if the leisurely pace causes The Greenhouse to go nowhere. But due to its subtle nature, there is, in fact, an awful lot going on underneath the surface; you are taken slowly through the turmoil of what Beth is going through. The struggles as the fear and stress of her returning family and the memories they will naturally cause her to become sleep deprived. Wilson-White effortlessly carries us through this story, in doing so, also integrates a narrative involving sexuality with equal effortlessness. The fact that a number of siblings are gay or sexually fluid matters not in this environment. Beth’s own yearning for Lauren feels as natural as it should be. A lost love with actions filled with regret.
When Beth’s struggles with her own sexuality come to the surface, her fear of coming out to her mothers and siblings plays a lot into the acceptance that she has to deal with. With Laurens sudden arrival back in town, her fears of her buried sexuality rise back up to the surface. These two circumstances freeze her and showcase the obvious difficulties of admitting not only to yourself but your family about your own sexuality. This tense thought process carries on throughout and adds layers to an already wonderful piece.
Memories of the good and the bad times float through The Greenhouse, often leaving you to go back into your own mind of times with loved ones now gone, of family you no longer see and even friends, long since previously forgotten. Helped by Freya Berkhout’s melancholic score, you feel you, like Beth and Ruth can live in that foggy world for a long time. But time and reality don’t allow us to do that when someone is gone from us, it becomes cold and unforgiving. We have to come back to the present and keep moving forward with our lives. No matter how much it hurts to leave those memories for another time, we know we have to, and it breaks you.
This is especially so when you are grieving; you don’t want that person gone. You want, no, need them to still be around in some for you. We remain stuck in the mud, and life just begins to pass us by. Jane Watt is fantastic here as she showcases loss and doubt tremendously well, with a performance that will linger for quite a while. The continued looks of being lost and the frustration when back in the real world haunts her. She needs to get back to the safety net of the past, like all of us do. She haunts you as you see her need to talk to her mother, to talk to Lauren, to change the past. Yet she knows it is too late.
The rest of the siblings are particularly strong for an ensemble as the chemistry between all four and with their mothers is a dead-on interpretation of a family dynamic. Everyone bounces off each other so well that you would think that either there was extensive rehearsals or this group have known each other for quite some time. From someone who had family be foster and then adoptive parents, the vibe and interactions between the group brought back memories of seeing my cousins interact. They may not be blood family, but they have a bond that is hard to break. Without this strong connection between the entire cast, The Greenhouse would not work nearly as well as it does. Happily, all six performers are exceptional during the runtime.
Oh, and one last point, I would love to watch more of Jurisdiction!
The Greenhouse is a film that is ambitious, and you can see how much heart Wilson-White has given to it; this is a film that stays with you long after you have finished watching it. A hauntingly beautiful picture.
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