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The Constant Gardener (dir. Fernando Meirelles)

Reviewed by Gerry Fitzsimons

24th November 2005

Those of you who have seen the film City of God, Fernando Meirelles’s account of life in the shantytowns of Rio de Janeiro, will not be surprised at the success of The Constant Gardener – his latest film as director.

The Constant Gardener is that rare combination of excellence of technique, political character study and plotting. In technique it is close to the interweaving opening scenes of City of God. In atmosphere and plotting it has all the sense of drama of the excellent TV series Edge of Darkness – only concentrated into one intense two-hour experience.

Where Edge of Darkness sought to trace the secret workings of the nuclear state, The Constant Gardener exposes the power of the drug companies and their clandestine relationship with governments who use Africa as a testing ground for their products.

The strange title initially draws you in on one level; the main character Quayle (Ralph Fiennes) a diplomat, is indeed a keen gardener. However, this is in fact a metaphor for people who have been taught to resist the temptation to intervene beyond their immediate environment (cultiver son jardin, in the French phrase) – as a crucial scene revels, when his wife loudly objects to the use of a weed killer for the upkeep of their consular garden.

Concentrating on the protocols of the embassy, Quayle worries that this incident is the last straw and that his wife Tessa (Rachel Weisz) is losing her mind and leads him to believe that he is being socially and sexually betrayed due to her impulsive behaviour. However, as he later finds out, the manufacturers of the weed killer and the company testing a new drug on Africans are one and the same and that she had also been more socially, as well as politically astute. 

But the degree of subtlety originated by John Le Carre in his original novel and developed by Meirelles in this adaptation has another side also and it is one that lingers in the mind well after the film has ended: Don’t accept the notion that a sense of justice is really misplaced passion.


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