Inspired by the true story of Irish woman, Mary Reynolds, Dare to be Wild is a sweet biography about the youngest woman to ever win a gold medal at the Chelsea Flower Show in London. The film is a decent attempt at turning an alluring true story into an inspirational drama. However, along the way it gets lost somewhere in between trying to be delightful and instead being boring.
The film opens with Mary as a child. She has a firm attachment to the nature that is on her family’s rural Irish farm, which is apparently why she grew up to become a garden designer, played by Emma Greenwell. After spending some time working for a stuck up celebrity garden designer who rips her off, Mary decides to enter into the prestigious garden show opposite her old boss. Despite not having the required sponsorship, Mary’s application is accepted. Now, she has 80 days to come up with the money to create a very expensive Celtic wildflower garden. On her adventure to get the funds, Mary entangles herself with handsome part-time violinist, part-time humanitarian, and full-time wildflower enthusiast, Christy Collard (Tom Hughes). Christy has the plants that Mary needs, but he “just doesn’t do flower shows.” When Christy leaves to work on his tree garden project in Ethiopia, Mary follows him to prove she’s worth investing in. Throughout the remainder of the film their relationship is complicated and unclear. Despite the genre of the film being labeled a romance, it is difficult to tell if there really is anything more than platonic in their relationship. The Ethiopian segment is interesting because it is something that really happened, however, in terms of storytelling, this segment continues for far to long before returning to the original goal of the film.
Throughout the film, Mary is continuously talking about how “nature is man, man is nature” and how we have lost our relationship with the wild. It’s a beautiful concept and I can understand what the film was trying to say. The problem is, she brings it up so many times it becomes redundant. While the story itself is interesting enough, the dialogue is filled with so much exposition that the audience becomes dizzy with eye rolls.
While I was charmed by Mary’s character, I was not invested in her. I knew from the beginning of the film that she was going to win the gold. Even if this wasn’t based on a true story, the trailer of the film gave away enough of the story that I was never worried this film would be a downer. I was charmed by Mary’s determination, her resolution to never give up, and I loved the note that she wrote to herself thanking the judges for her gold medal before she had even applied for the show. The trials that she faced didn’t concern me because I knew she was going to win. I was not invested in her character enough to care when she hit rock bottom because I knew she would climb out of it before the end.
“I wished I could somehow transport myself from my living room in sunny Arizona to 2002 London and witness the beauty of Mary’s garden in person.”
The film takes us on a journey through the beautiful landscapes of wild Ireland to the deserts of Ethiopia. The gardens created by the film crew are spectacular. In fact, the beauty of the film’s landscapes entirely steal the show. While I was not invested in the characters, I was invested in the gardens. The moment when the hawthorn trees bloomed and Mary’s garden was complete was the only moment when my eyes were glued to the television and I was not tempted to look at my phone or twiddle my thumbs. I wished I could somehow transport myself from my living room in sunny Arizona to 2002 London and witness the beauty of Mary’s garden in person.
Overall, the film struggled to find the excitement in Mary’s story. However, it did succeed in sharing Mary’s vision of saving the environment and embracing once again with nature. Despite its struggle, the film had magical moments that truly brought the Celtic Wild to life.