Based on the novel by John le Carré, Fernando Meirelles’s film The Constant Gardener takes us to an Africa overwhelmed by poverty, disease, and crime—a place so desperate, the dead are buried in concrete graves to keep thieves from stealing their wedding rings. The gardener of the title is a British High Commission officer named Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes), a man who has reached midlife with no ambition beyond tending his flower garden, and little use of his intellect beyond fashioning sophistical diplomatic arguments for inaction in the face of injustice. Then he meets Tessa (Rachel Weisz), a brash law student who interrupts a tedious London lecture on diplomacy Quayle is delivering to upbraid him for the sins of British foreign policy. Opposites attract, and soon Tessa is asking Quayle to take her back to Africa with him. “In what capacity?” he wonders, and she shrugs: “Your girlfriend, your mistress, your wife.” Thrilled by such impetuous unconventionality, Quayle answers it by marrying her, and off they go.
In Kenya Tessa becomes a champion of the poor. Befriending a Belgian-African doctor named Arnold Bluhm, who shares her activist zeal, she plunges into Nairobi’s shantytown slums. “You’ve got to do something about Tessa,” urges Quayle’s superior at the High Commission. What dismays Quayle is not embarrassment but danger—and the lurking suspicion that Tessa and Bluhm are romantically involved. These...
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About the Author
Rand Richards Cooper, one of Commonweal's film critics, is the author of two works of fiction, The Last To Go and Big as Life.