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Film Review: This Beautiful Fantastic

A screenshot from the film

Screen shots copyright © 2016 Ipso Facto Productions/Smudge Films.

This Beautiful Fantastic is only a couple of years old, a British production shot and released in 2016. I had never heard of it until I stumbled upon it on a catch-up service (it’s on iplayer for the next month). I enjoyed it so much I thought I’d write about it.

A screenshot from the film

The story centres on Bella (Jessica Brown Findley), a young woman with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – timing and organisation rituals, mostly – who lives in a basement flat in a nice area. As a baby she was left in a box in a park, found by an elderly gentleman who had gone for a swim in the lake. She went to a convent school. (The details here are vague, presumably to add to the fairy tale nature of it.) Now grown up, she lives an old-fashioned life, dressing in clothes from decades past and wearing an old digital watch, and works in a library that fits her lifestyle. The only thing about her world that isn’t tidy is her garden, a wild patch of ground that scares her. One day she injures herself; her curmudgeonly neighbour, Alfie (Tom Wilkinson) takes her in, where he proceeds to rant about dinner to his cook, Vernon (Andrew Scott), which leads to Bella offering Vernon a job with her. Annoyed, and with Vernon refusing to return, Alfie tells Bella’s letting agent about her garden, and the agent gives her one month to clear it up or leave her flat.

The above is about 1/3 of the story – the story is about more than the garden, but gardening and its benefits are what the film revolves around.

A screenshot from the film

Bella’s life story, told at the beginning of the film, includes more than a hint of magical realism, and there’s a strong literary atmosphere throughout that suggests you might be watching an adaptation of a wonderful novel, perhaps by Amy Bender or Frances Hodgson Burnett, the latter not simply because of the garden but because of the magic. There’s also some soft humour that suggests the writer was inspired by Alan Bennett. But the film isn’t an adaptation, it just feels like one, and it is this that makes it a good possibility for a book lover.

There is so much to this film: the look at mental illness and the way support can make a difference; the romance (Bella and Billy, played by Jeremy Irvine) that is very well done both in the script and by the actors. And there is the production itself: a slight bloom effect covers the picture for the entirety of the film; the colours are muted, often dark. The use of history in the eccentricities is weird and wonderful and confusing; you’ll likely continue to ponder on is exactly when the film is set, the story offering a mix of a present day background with people who run the gambit from tracksuits to steampunk.

A screenshot from the film

The literary quality of the film extends to Bella’s occupation – a librarian seeking to become a children’s author and illustrator. And Alfie’s book-like narration rounds it off.

Certainly you have to suspend reality in order to enjoy this film. As this is a book blog I’ll say that I think anyone who likes Austen, the Brontës, Dodie Smith, and magical realism, will at the very least appreciate it. It’s slow, full of feeling and fantasy.

It’s a film that should be a book.

 
 

Jeanne

September 20, 2018, 2:51 am

I’ll look for this!

Charlie

September 27, 2018, 8:33 am

Jeanne: Do! :)

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