DARE TO BE WILD (Ireland/PG/100mins)
Directed by Vivienne De Courcy. Starring Emma Greenwald, Tom Hughes, Alex Macqueen, Janie Dee, Christine Marzano
THE PLOT: Ever since she was a child, Mary Reynolds (Emma Greenwell) has had a fascination with nature, and dreams of becoming a landscape designer. When she lands a job with a prestigious firm she thinks she is on her way, but her designs are stolen and she is left jobless. Not deterred, Mary decides to take matters into her own hands and enter the Chelsea Flower Show on her own steam, the only trouble is that she’ll need sponsors and a lot of help to make her dream come true.
THE VERDICT: ‘Dare to be Wild’ is not the only recent film to focus on women in landscape design – Kate Winslet played such a character in Alan Rickman’s ‘A Little Chaos’ – and although the film feels very earnest, it also feels rather twee, with some meandering and off-centre Irish accents to boot.
Emma Greenwell does fine in the lead role of Mary Reynolds – once you can look past her accent and her strange resemblance to Kiera Knightley. Greenwell is passionate and rather charming, but she is constantly struggling under the weight of the screenplay and her dodgy accent – why are English actresses being drafted in to play Irish when we have a wealth of talent here at home!? Tom Hughes plays Christy, Mary’s antagonist/love interest and he is just the right combination of aloof and charming… Accent bedamned. The rest of the cast features Don Wycherley, Alex Macqueen, Janie See and Christine Marzano.
Vivienne De Courcy’s screenplay is inspired by the true story of Mary Reynolds who, at the age of 28, became the youngest woman and the first Irish person to win a Gold Medal at the Chelsea Flower Show, even managing to beat competition from Prince Charles. There is a sweetness to the story, and it is a true underdog tale, but this sweetness somehow gets lost between quirkily dressed characters, a trip to Africa and all the “Oirish” schmaltz. The idea for Mary’s garden is beautiful – keeping gardens wilder, as opposed to manicured – but this film does not do the story justice.
As director, Vivienne De Courcy makes sure that ‘Dare to be Wild’ moves at lickety speed, and the cinematography is often breathtaking. That said, the love story feels shoehorned in, and characters quickly fall into familiar roles; the plucky one, the cheat, the antagonist who out hero will fall in love with. There is a warmth to it, but it all feels a little twee and familiar.
In all, ‘Dare to be Wild’ is a completely inoffensive film in its intentions, but it feels a little derivative of ‘A Little Chaos’ – even though it is a true story – and the entire thing ends up feeling rather twee and a little like it takes place in the land of the leprechauns. It’ll probably play well outside of Ireland though.
RATING: 2/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    Dare To Be Wild is based on the true story of Mary Reynolds, the Irishwoman who went on to conquer the Chelsea Flower Show. OK, that’s not the most thrilling of film subjects, but it’s a diverting enough character piece.

    Mary (Emma Greenwell) has dreams of achieving something special in her life, something that will define her as a person for the future. She heads to Dublin to work as a landscape designer under the wings of Charlotte (Christine Marzano), with the intention of making a bid to compete in the world-famous Chelsea Flower Show and design a garden that is a true original. Charlotte steals her designs and dumps her from the job, leaving Mary unsure as to her next move. The solution comes in the form of Christy (Tom Hughes), a gardener who helps her bring her idea of a natural habitat to fruition and who also falls for her. But to compete she needs sponsorship…

    Writer/director Vivienne De Courcy’s debut feature is not exactly ripe with drama, since the outcome of the story is fairly obvious early on. There’s nothing too daring or original in her script either, which plays it safe with Mary herself and the supporting characters, some of whom seem to have walked on set from another film. Some of the acting from the supporting players is soap opera quality too. That said though, there’s something about the film which makes it watchable all the same.

    It could be Greenwell’s performance, which is sparky and soulful enough to raise the film up that little bit higher. The idea of a young underdog competing against more experienced landscape designers is bound to gain audience sympathies, but Reynolds deserved her fame. Her garden has an undeniable Irish charm to it and is striking enough to stand out. De Courcy’s direction is competent and makes good use of alternate locations like Ethiopia, which provides a contrasting visual style as well. While Dare To Be Wild appears to be more suited for the small screen, it’s a pleasant but not essential trip to the cinema. ***