David Allen’s Wilding documentary is a fairytale of biodiversity which charts an ambitious 3,500-acre rewilding project at Knepp Castle and Estate in Surrey. Packed with enchanting wildlife footage, irritating recreations and engaging narration, this is a flawed but winning story of gumption, privilege, hope and woo.

Sir Charles Burrell (Charlie) and Lady Burrell – Isabella Tree, author of Wilding, the best-selling book and source material for this film – moved to the 400-year-old arable and livestock farming estate Knepp when Charlie inherited its custodianship. Despite the idyllic first impression of the surrounding countryside, manmade interventions and a century under the plough had devastated the land and native wildlife. Under the guidance of eccentric academic and arboriculturist Ted Green, the couple learned to see things differently, to understand the dynamic ecosystem dancing from the ground beneath their feet to the oak trees soaring over their heads and to honour it.

After a pilgrimage to Holland to see the alchemic effect that ancient animal breeds could have on modern land, Charlie and Isabella took a leap of faith, tearing down boundaries (literal and metaphorical) and allowing the power of nature to return to Knepp. Exmoor ponies, old English longhorn cattle and Tamworth pigs were allowed to freely roam the estate’s plundered acres. They rootled, ploughed, nested and bred; traversing a winter without human intervention and defying expectations (and frazzled nerves) by thriving.

The magic of the natural world that Simon de Glanville and Tim Cragg’s cinematography captures is indescribably lovely. Paired with the soothing tones of Isabella Tree’s narration, in these passages, Wilding shines. Less successful is the baffling choice to feature rose-tinted recreations of the couple’s 20-year rewilding journey and some unneccesary CGI. Faced with a lack of photos or footage from the time, tell not show would have worked far better here.

Charlie’s preoccupation with preserving a pristine circle of lawn (larger than the gardens of most of the film’s audience) is one example of an ill-judged moment where privilege peeps through. Watching a hoorah Henry on a bicycle, cracking a bullwhip and shouting at pigs to get off his land is…an experience better forgotten. Rather let us linger on footage of industrious dormice who, finding their way to Knepp against the odds, construct thistledown-lined nests among the tall grasses as dragonflies offer a feast for the birds of prey circling above.

Perhaps better suited as a series, with room to allow a gentler pace and wallow in the beauty of the recovering land, Wilding is nevertheless a delightful little documentary and – with British summer officially beginning on 20th June – a perfect way to usher in a new season.

Wilding opens in cinemas on June 14th 2024

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Emily Breen
Emily Breen began writing for HeyUGuys in 2009. She favours pretzels over popcorn and rarely watches trailers as she is working hard to overcome a compulsion to ‘solve’ plots. Her trusty top five films are: Betty Blue, The Red Shoes, The Princess Bride, The Age of Innocence and The Philadelphia Story. She is troubled by people who think Tom Hanks was in The Philadelphia Story and by other human beings existing when she is at the cinema.
wilding-reviewThough perhaps better suited as a series, with room to allow a gentler pace and wallow in the beauty of the recovering land, Wilding is nevertheless a delightful documentary that transfixes as well as tests patience.