Posts Tagged ‘Gardening’

Vita & Virginia (2018)

Dir-Scr Chanya Button | Evangelo Kioussis. With Gemma Arterton, Elizabeth Debicki, Isabella Rossellini. UK-Ireland 2018. 110min.

How can a film about two of the 20th century’s most colourful female characters be so underwhelming? Drawing from Eileen Atkins’ 1993 play, Chanya Button’s biopic explores the lesbian relationship between Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf without ever mining its incendiary dramatic potential. It is a drama without  drama, lacklustre and trivial despite its lush, unconventional pretensions.

Elizabeth Debicki is suburb as the rather awkward blue-stocking Wolfe. And she towers above Arterton’s impishly pedestrian portrait of glamorous socialite and gardening expert Sackville-West (doyenne of Sissinghurst Castle, whose Grade I listed gardens is one of the most famous in England). Sadly, the only reference to horticulture is a rather odd attempt at magic realism that sees CGI ivy sprouting out of the floors.

Vita & Virginia looks absolutely sumptuous in its rich 1920s Arts & Crafts settings (including medieval Knole House) but the film plays out like an insipid soap opera, its lacklustre characters simply going through the motions. There’s a great deal of pouting and misty close-ups of lips; but in the end nothing vaguely illuminating happens, and we left in the dark about these avant-garde women. Director Chanya Button has had a promising career so far with several awards for her filmmaking. Yet this most fascinating of themes: LGBTQ, horticulture and literature fails to ignite on any level.

Part of the problem is the script – written by Button and Atkins – which simply traces the steps that lead to Woolf’s sexual awakening in rather tepid bed scenes, rather than probing the depths of their intellectual attraction. In fact, Vita emerges a rather bored, housewife with a faux posh accent, rather than a highly creative aristocrat and free-thinking intellectual. The two exchange excerpts from twee love letters bringing nothing constructive to the party. And to cast Isabella Rossellini as Arterton’s on-screen mother, Baroness Sackville, is a grave mistake – the two couldn’t be more different. Rossellini exudes charisma in her role, threatening to cut off her daughter’s allowance if she doesn’t behave.

Vita is married to a suave bisexual diplomat Sir Harold Nicholson (Rupert Penry-Jones in fine fettle) and Woolf is supported by her loving husband Leonard (Peter Ferdinando) who recognised her need for stability. Vita worships her from afar and the women finally meet at a bohemian Bloomsbury party. From then on a friendship develops – although the two share no chemistry to speak of. Vita is 30, Virginia 10 years her senior. Debecki adds subtle layers of depth to her character, including an impressive accent, redolent of the era. Her sister is the painter Vanessa Bell (Emerald Fennell) who lives with a gay artist Duncan Grant (Adam Gillen).

Although this is essentially Vita’s story, the emotionally delicate Virginia steals the show as a highly enigmatic character who is in the process of penning the radical 1928 novel Orlando, an experience that appears initially to thrill her far more than her lesbian dalliance with the “Sapphic” Sackville-West, and encapsulates the male/female duality of her character. Virginia gradually becomes more involved in the relationship which eventually destabilises her (she in fact went on to commit suicide) and this is shown through convincing CGI rooks sweeping down in the gardens of the Knole.

Button certainly exposes the lesbian relationship between her characters but that’s really all the film does. Vita & Virginia is a missed opportunity to offer something more invigorating about the women themselves, and what attracted them to each other in the first place. MT


Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf (2017) ***

Dir: Thomas Piper | Doc, 73′

Dutch landscape designer and plantsman Pete Oudolf has dedicated his life to creating some of the most iconic gardens around the world and this documentary celebrates his contributions in the US and England.

Five Seasons‘ stunning widescreen panoramas showcase Oudolf’s own gardens at Hummelo in Holland, and his signature public works in New York (The High Line); Chicago (Lurie Gardens) and designs for Durslade – a garden he considers his best work yet. The documentary flits about a bit chronologically, but provides a stunning visual and meditative experience. Piper’s skilful time-lapse sequences take us through the whole year at Hummelo, from Autumn to the following Autumn, timelapse sequences offering an immersive look at Oudolf’s planting techniques and creative process, from his beautifully abstract sketches, to his general ethos and feelings about the natural world. Oudolf paints with plants. But unlike painting, his creations develop in a multi-dimensional way, not only according to the changing seasons, soil and climate but also to the particular ambience they inhabit. Oudolf posits: “I put plants on stage and let them perform”.

When he started out 35 years ago Oudolf ‘s abiding desire was to escape from traditional planting and design.. He wanted to get to know his living ‘building blocks’ spontaneously and from the experience of growing and living with plants rather than studying them in a college or from a book, “discovering beauty in things that are initially not beautiful”. Tall, commanding and rocking a killer blond hair cut, he comes across as a reserved – almost spiky – man in discussions with designer Noel Kingsbury and photographer Richard Dark.

Growing up in a bar with his publican father, he never had that intimate family life. Instead he learnt to observe. Moving to Harlem with his girlfriend Anya (still the guiding light in his life) gave him the space to experiment and with her support he looked at various careers, finally ending up in a garden nursery. His method is to list a series of plants that will create the right atmosphere for his particular project, he calculates the dominant plant groups to achieve his overall effect: “Gardening is also a promise you’re creating for your client. It’s about getting the look right even during the bad moments, in the depths or winter or in drought”.

Celebrated by gardeners for his revolutionary designs, by ecologists for his significant contributions to bio-diversity, by horticulturalists and botanists for his unrivalled knowledge of plants, and by the art, architecture, design and fashion worlds for his innovative aesthetics, Piet Oudolf has now achieved a level of influence and cultural relevance, rarely, if ever, attained by, in his own words, a modest plantsman.

Oudolf has achieved international acclaim, and has recently been awarded an Honorary Fellowship from the RIBA for developing radical ideas in Planting Design (2012) and the Prince Bernhard Cultural Foundation Award (2013).


The Mule (2018) ***

Dir: Clint Eastwood | Writ: Sam Dolnick | Cast: Bradley Cooper, Clint Eastwood, Manny Montana, Taissa Farmiga | US Thriller | 118′

Clint Eastwood digs up the story of American horticulturalist Leo Sharp and shovels it out as a plodding but endearing drama about a geriatric, green-fingered drug mule.

Most people won’t have heard of Leo Sharp. He was a popular plantsman who tended his award-winning day-lilies until his business went belly up in the digital age. Directing from Nick Schenck’s laboured script, Clint Eastwood plays him as savvy entrepreneur Earl Stone, who seizes the opportunity to finance his dwindling days by becoming a driver for the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel.

The life and soul of any gathering, stone is an old school charmer for whom work is always a pleasure but family a chore –  and we feel his pain as he potters around in a state of perpetual regret for disappointing his nagging wife (Dianne West) and daughter. Infact, all the women in The Mule are seen in a negative light either nagging or as gaiety girls flashing their assets –  his grand-daughter is the exception (Taissa Farmiga gets the best female role).  Maybe there’s more of Clint in Stone than he’d like to admit.

And that’s not all. The DEA (in the shape of Bradley Cooper and Michael Peña) are on his tail, at a snail’s pace. Cooper does his stuff with consummate ease and follows Stone across the scenic landscape and the two compare notes on family faux pas. And clearly Clint relishes his role as he sallies forth on the open road, singing out loud at the wheel of his truck, a rather sly old curmudgeon one minute, and twinkly-eyed Roué the next. And what man wouldn’t when offered a threesome with Mexican babes.

The Mule is a slow roadie with a wonderful central performance from a Hollywood great. Still rocking into his nineties and in command of his faculties. There are few politically incorrect moments – and for a man who grew up in the 1940s you’ve got to appreciate how times – and attitudes – have changed. And when he delivered his acceptance speech at the Day-lily awards, Clint should have quoted Dorothy Parker’s famous line: “You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think”. That said, The Mule is a respectable movie. And Clint is still a legend. How many of us can say that? MT


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