I recently came across this quirky film on my Kanopy account called This Beautiful Fantastic, and it was right up my alley. A lonely aspiring writer developing a fondness for plants plus the hot priest from Fleabag? I was in!
If you take it at face value, This Beautiful Fantastic is a quiet, wandering film, but one with heart. Helmed by Simon Aboud, this quaint British film follows Bella Brown (Jessica Brown Findlay), a lonely, fastidious woman who works at a library instead of chasing after her dreams of becoming a published author. When she has to clean up her garden or face eviction, she develops an unlikely friendship with her curmudgeonly neighbor Alfie (Tom Wilkinson) and his kind widowed chef Vernon (Andrew Scott, hot priest!).
The symbolism of the garden in the film has been criticized as tenuous, but as someone who can’t get enough of plants, I appreciate how Bella’s garden stood for many different things. It represents her deepest fears, particularly of pursuing her writing career. Spending time in the garden and cleaning up helped her understand that she could manage her fears if only she took things one step at a time. Plants, after all, teach us the virtue of patience. Try propagating anything, and you’ll get it. It might initially be dull, but seeing your plant sprout arms or roots within a couple of weeks is a delight. With help from her friends, Bella manicures her yard to something half-decent in a month.
The garden also stands for the possibility of growth. Bella grows in that she opens up to more people in her life. The garden is where she befriends Alfie, who teaches her the tips and tricks of gardening. As for Alfie, plants are his way of documenting and honoring his life’s memories, especially those of his past travels and times with his wife. They aren’t mere mementos stagnant in a display case; his plants grow and thrive over time.
I won’t say that this film is for everyone. There are no real stakes. The plant photography can also become indulgent and the quirkiness can become saccharine. I mean, a librarian who falls in love with a quaint mechanical bird inventor (Jeremy Irvine)? It’s a little on the nose, but I personally enjoyed it. If you’re a plant lover who doesn’t mind a hangout indie film with a dash of whimsy, it’s worth checking out. You might just find yourself caring about these storybook characters, if only you open your heart to their occasionally contrived eccentricities.