With the darkness of winter imminent and New Zealand gardens well into lock-down, it seems an odd time to release an optimistically colourful film about an English garden. Perhaps it was a scheduling decision by the studio to make Lions supporters feel more at home. However, all is not well in an English garden.
Written and directed by Simon Aboud, This Beautiful Fantastic is a light-hearted fable about two warring neighbours: Alfie, an obstinate old-man played by the wonderfully earthy Tom Wilkinson (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel), and the other an obsessive-compulsive young woman named Bella played by Jessica Brown Findlay (Sybil Crawley in Downton Abbey). Bella’s “criminal neglect” of her back garden is met with Alfie’s ire when he snitches on her landlord. With a month to tidy up her garden, Bella must find some way of growing green fingers. Predictably, walls (both metaphorical and literal) are broken down as the two learn to gain more understanding of each other. Alfie’s cook, Vernon (Andrew Scott), acts as the conduit between the two to smooth over their relationship. Meanwhile, the painfully adorable Billy (Jeremy Irvine) frequents the library where Bella works and waits in the wings to sweep her off her feet.
The film’s whimsically twee style is possibly something of an acquired taste that might be irksome to some but inspiring to others. Its form is reminiscent of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie and offers a similar palette that is pleasing on the eyes. Cinematographer Mike Eley (who also shot My Cousin Rachel which is in current release) is given plenty of scope to play with colour and focus. Eley’s camera does a wonderful job of eliciting the film’s modus operandi as a modern day fairytale, and as the film’s title suggests, occasionally ventures into magical realism.
However, like most fairytales the damsel in distress remains a tad too passive and reactive and This Beautiful Fantastic does little to break out of this mould. Here, Bella seems a lost cause without the help of the men around her, and life lessons learnt through the use of garden metaphors seem at times a laboured attempt to disguise her lack of agency. Nonetheless, This Beautiful Fantastic is an enjoyable, if predictable film of familiar faces, tropes, and environs. Its gentle and warm comedy will go some way to break down the cynics in the audience.
You can see the published review here.