The Greenhouse begins with voices interposed. Faces at a dinner table are theatrically illuminated; anecdotes are whimsically exchanged. We come to learn these faces belong to the adopted children of Ruth (Camilla Ah Kin) and Lilian (Rhondda Findleton). Akin in their radiance, all are sculpted by the glow of a flashback. The present, as we soon discover, is far less beguiling.
It’s sometime in the morning years later, and the siblings are reconvening back home for Ruth’s birthday. Lilian is absent; we quickly learn of her passing.
In the wake of Lilian’s death, and seemingly activated by it, the family’s titular greenhouse begins to function as a portal—it affords revisitation to formative moments through the novel perspective of an outsider. Memories become exhibitions; entrants amble through unbound.
Admittance to the past is contextualised through loss. Indeed, the past’s accessibility does not merely give rise to the film’s magical realism, it substantiates a reckoning with grief, especially for our protagonist. At odds with her siblings who all lead fulfilling lives, Beth (Jane Watt) never left the family home. She stayed put to accompany Ruth. Unable to move on, both are suspended in inertia as symbolised by their suburban lifestyle. To temper their stasis, the greenhouse enables an opportunity to relive significant moments, to reconnect.
Beth, the portal’s most curious user, crosses the threshold to (self-punishingly?) witness the distance she felt with her late mother Lilian, predicated by the denial of her own sexuality. Her frenetic personality suits the (perhaps unintentional) narrative disjointedness; her fixation on memories, particularly those involving a previous romantic interest, Lauren (Harriet Gordon-Anderson), illuminates the inevitable self-destruction in dwelling on the past. Poisoning the present, the greenhouse becomes a treacherous vessel, one, at least for Beth, hinged on regret.
Thomas Wilson-White’s feature-length debut is noticeably stripped-back, though perhaps this asceticism is its downfall. Held back by its tangential third act and rather mouldering aesthetic, The Greenhouse never quite fulfils its reach. Nevertheless, the nuance with which it features parental loss and queerness—the latter of which is illustrated with unspoken subtlety—is something quite sublime.