Coming Up Roses

  • 1986
  • 1 HR 33 MIN
  • NR
  • Comedy

Reminiscent of Bill Forsyth's human comedies, this charming Welsh-language film presents a humorous, touching, and ultimately uplifting look at the closing of the last movie house in a depressed town in South Wales. When the Rex is shuttered, no one is more shaken than the projectionist, Hywel, who looks upon his job as a profession and only grudgingly...read more

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Reminiscent of Bill Forsyth's human comedies, this charming Welsh-language film presents a humorous, touching, and ultimately uplifting look at the closing of the last movie house in a depressed town in South Wales. When the Rex is shuttered, no one is more shaken than the projectionist,

Hywel, who looks upon his job as a profession and only grudgingly takes on the duties of caretaker when it becomes an economic necessity. Hywel is divorced, and his three sons live with his ex-wife and her new husband. Because this new husband is unemployed, Hywel is still the family's de facto

provider, as well as a friend to the man who has replaced him in his family. Like the former manager of the Rex (Phillips), who reluctantly accepts an early retirement, Hywel holds onto the slim hope that the Rex will reopen, but it seems far more likely that a wrecking ball is in its future. When

some outside investors are scheduled to inspect the theater, Hywel works frantically to clean up the moviehouse, aided by Gregory, the Rex's ice-cream vendor in better times. The facelift notwithstanding, the visitors (including COMFORT AND JOY star Paterson) are interested not in reopening the

Rex but in converting it into a parking lot. Although disappointed by this prospect, Hywel has been luckier in other ways. He and Gregory don't exactly fall for each other, but they certainly gravitate in each other's direction, despite her lack of culinary skills (one bad meal is particularly

amusing).

Meanwhile, the husband of Hywel's ex-wife, who is about to lose his motorcycle--and his self-respect with it--asks Hywel for a loan of 700 pounds sterling. With nowhere near that kind of resources, Hywel turns to ex-manager Phillips for the loan. The old man obliges, lending him the money he has

set aside for a "proper funeral," and securing Hywel's promise that should Phillips die, Hywel will see to it that Phillips gets the desired funeral. Not long after that, Phillips falls ill, and a desperate Hywel racks his brain for a way to come up with the money for the imminent funeral. Hywel

and Gregory hit upon a scheme to use the dark, dank theater as a place to grow mushrooms. With the help of Gregory's daughter (a scatterbrained unwed mother who proves to be quite a salesman), several senior citizens, and the dirge-playing rock band that practices in the Rex, Hywel and Gregory don

miners' helmets and set to scientific mushroom farming. All of this transpires in an air of secrecy--no one can know the use to which the Rex is being put--and is set against the backdrop of the deteriorating health of Phillips, whom Hywel exhorts to hang on just a little bit longer. After some

initial success, they decide to plow their profits back into the operation in hope of producing an even-larger harvest. Big, beautiful mushrooms begin sprouting, new orders come in as fast as old ones are filled, and it looks as if everything is going to work out according to plan. Then, without

warning, the town council decides to take over the Rex. Accompanying this report is the news that the councillors are on their way to have a look at the place. A scene follows in which the mushrooms are transferred to an abandoned mine--an evacuation that makes Dunkirk look like a fire drill. The

mushrooms are out before the council honchos arrive; the mine, however, is not nearly so salubrious an environment for the mushrooms as is the climate-controlled Rex. The mushrooms begin to die in the heat. But just when all hope seems exhausted, the ever-resourceful Hywel comes up with the idea

of selling the failed crop as compost. Needless to say, Phillips gets his funeral and a fancy headstone to boot.

Even if everything doesn't strictly come up roses, the ending remains upbeat, a celebration of perseverance, innovation, and the human spirit in the face of hard times and bad luck. This is also a film about a community coming together to triumph--or at least to survive. Director Bayly, an

American-born British resident trained at the British national film school, and writer Carter have created characters who are colorful and comical yet wholly believable, demanding both empathy and admiration. The performances are uniformly understated and excellent (no small feat considering the

limited pool of Welsh-speaking actors), particularly those of Hywel and Gregory. If the audience must willingly suspend disbelief at moments to allow the film to work its magic, the essential reality of the situation is never compromised. Though the town's closed coal mine plays only a minor role

in the story, it doesn't take much of a leap of imagination to see the parallel between the shuttered theater and the 1984 pit closures by the National Coal Board that dramatically altered the fabric of life in the erstwhile mining region of South Wales. The political message of the film is

ambiguous, however: arguably it can be interpreted as either a condemnation of Tory balance-sheet economics--that give short shrift to the human consequences of industrial realignment--or as an endorsement of the plucky entrepreneurial spirit championed by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Whichever the case, COMING UP ROSES has the unmistakable ring of truth. The story behind the making of the film is itself somewhat magical. The inspiration for the Phillips character, a moviehouse impresario in Aberdare, South Wales, where COMING UP ROSES was shot, was to have appeared as an

extra, but on the day they were shooting Phillips' funeral scene, he died. The line between life and art blurred further when the real-life Rex was threatened with closure and filmmaker Bayly and others associated with the movie attempted to purchase it to turn it into a revival house. Made under

the auspices of 4-year-old Welsh TV, the film was shot in four weeks on a budget of approximately 250,000 pounds sterling. (In Welsh; English subtitles.)

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