The Constant Gardener
Constant gardener.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byFernando Meirelles
Screenplay byJeffrey Caine
Based onThe Constant Gardener
by John le Carré
Produced bySimon Channing Williams
StarringRalph Fiennes
Rachel Weisz
Danny Huston
Bill Nighy
Pete Postlethwaite
CinematographyCésar Charlone
Edited byClaire Simpson
Music byAlberto Iglesias
Distributed byUnited International Pictures (United Kingdom)[1]
Kinowelt Filmverleih (Germany)[1]
Release dates
  • 31 August 2005 (2005-08-31) (United States)
  • 11 November 2005 (2005-11-11) (United Kingdom)
Running time
129 minutes
CountriesUnited Kingdom
Budget$25 million[1]
Box office$82.4 million[1]

The Constant Gardener is a 2005 British-German drama thriller film[2] directed by Fernando Meirelles. The screenplay by Jeffrey Caine is based on John le Carré's 2001 novel of the same name. The story follows Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes), a British diplomat in Kenya, as he tries to solve the murder of his wife Tessa (Rachel Weisz), an Amnesty activist, alternating with many flashbacks telling the story of their love.

The film was filmed on location in Loiyangalani and the slums of Kibera, a section of Nairobi, Kenya. Circumstances in the area affected the cast and crew to the extent that they set up the Constant Gardener Trust in order to provide basic education for these villages. The plot was vaguely based on a real-life case in Kano, Nigeria. The DVD versions were released in the United States on 1 January 2006 and in the United Kingdom on 13 March 2006. Justin's gentle but diligent attention to his plants is a recurring background theme, from which image the film's title is derived. Hubert Koundé, Danny Huston, Bill Nighy, Pete Postlethwaite, and Donald Sumpter co-star. The film was a critical and box office success and earned four Oscar nominations, winning Best Supporting Actress for Rachel Weisz.


Revealed in a flashback: The company "KVH" (Karel Vita Hudson) develops a tuberculosis drug "Dypraxa" and has drug trials conducted in Kenya by "Three Bees". In order to get willing test subjects, KVH offers treatment for HIV at no cost.

Three Bees discovers that the "Dypraxa" drug is effective, but kills a higher number of people than would be acceptable. KVH, to prevent any delay to the release of the drug and to remove the need to spend millions of dollars on refining the formula, covers up the deaths with the assistance of the British Foreign Office.

The inventor of Dypraxa, Dr Lorbeer, upon discovering his trial has killed so many people, runs away and attempts to atone for the deaths by treating villagers in Southern Sudan.

Tessa Quayle, a rich Amnesty International activist, lives in Kenya watching for corruption and waste of foreign aid sent for medicine and hospitals, and becomes aware of the unnecessary tuberculosis treatment while visiting HIV patients with a Kenyan doctor, Arnold Bluhm. Arnold is gay but keeps it a secret since homosexuality is illegal in Kenya. Tessa and Arnold are close, which causes rumors of an affair because Tessa is married to Justin Quayle, a low-level British diplomat and horticultural hobbyist posted in Kenya.

Tessa, who is very pregnant, sees a new mother get very ill who was part of the trial. Tessa and Arnold try to get some attention on the trial by writing up a report for the Foreign Office, but to protect Justin, Tessa takes the report to her husband's coworker, the British High Commissioner, Sandy Woodrow. Sandy sends the report to his boss in London, Sir Bernard Pellegrin, who heads the Africa Desk at the Foreign Office.

Sir Bernard Pellegrin immediately writes an incriminating letter to Sandy saying that by acknowledging that there could be a risk of Dypraxa causing unnecessary deaths, the Foreign Office cannot claim ignorance when Three Bees announces the safety of Dypraxa, so the report must be buried, and Tessa and Arnold need to be kept under surveillance to further block any reporting of problems with Dypraxa.

Sandy realizes he made a mistake to send the report but doesn't recognize the danger Tessa is in. When Tessa asks Sandy about the response he deflects that he only got a personal letter in response. Tessa promises she will have sex with him if he shows her the letter. Sandy hands her the letter and tells her to lock it in his drawer after she's read it.

Tessa reads it and realizes the situation is serious. Determined to not have the lives of poor Kenyans sacrificed so KVH and Three Bees can make millions of dollars, she arranges for her and Arnold to go find Dr. Lorbeer in southern Sudan so she can get proof of her theories and turn those in to a German watchdog group.

Knowing she is in danger, she ensures her will is set to take care of her husband, including leaving him her house in London so that he can go home to it after she dies. Sandy, still holding out hope that Tess will leave Justin for him, writes her a letter asking for them to run away together. Tess hides this letter in a keepsake box with her will.

Tessa and Arnold go to southern Sudan and find Lorbeer, get the clinical trial data from him and record him on tape admitting to what he knows about the drug trials killing people, and leave the letter that Pellegrin wrote with him as proof that the Foreign Service was also aware of the issue. Sandy informs Pellegrin that Tess and Arnold are on the move, and Pellegrin orders them to be killed, and for it to look like Arnold raped Tessa and beat her to death.

Tessa and Arnold hire a driver to leave in order to mail the evidence and tape, only to be run off the road by the hit squad. The driver is killed, Tess is raped and beaten to death, and Arnold is abducted, has his tongue cut out, is crucified upside down, and has his penis cut off which is then shoved into his mouth.

Sandy gets the news, goes to Justin, and tells him they are getting reports of a white woman and black driver found killed in the southern end of Lake Turkana. Sandy says Tess and Arnold spent the night at Lodwar, shared a room, then hired a car, and Arnold's whereabouts are unknown.

The movie flashes back to Justin and Tess meeting and falling in love. In the present, Justin and Sandy are taken to a Kenyan morgue to Tessa's body. Sandy now understands that a hit was put out on her because of the report she filed and Justin identifies her body.

Tessa's office has all the computers and CDs taken from it in an effort to wipe out any evidence of the crime, but Justin finds Sandy's letter in the keepsake box, where Sandy asks for "the thing you took from me" (the letter from Pellegrin). Justin becomes determined to get to the bottom of her murder and notices people tailing him, intimidating him with notes, and eventually beating him up and telling him to stay away. Despite this, he continues to uncover his wife's final days. KVH in the meantime have made the announcement of a safe Dypraxa and their stock price has soared.

After arriving back in London, Justin has his passport confiscated by the Home Office and meets with his lawyer who is Tessa's first cousin, Ham. Ham lets him know that she took care of Justin in the will in case she died, as little as two weeks before she was murdered.

Ham helps Justin get a fake passport, since they know they are both being watched, then sets up Tessa's aunt in Rome as a contact that Justin can call and get a message to Ham.

When Justin finds out about Lorbeer in southern Sudan, he visits him and gets the incriminating letter, which he has mailed to the aunt in Rome. He then goes to Lake Turkana, where he says that he knows all of Tessa's secrets, that he understands her now, and he is coming home. To prevent being tortured to death, he removes the bullets from a gun and likely brandishes it to the approaching hit squad so that they kill him.

At Tessa and Justin's London memorial service, Pellegrin speaks of Justin as having committed suicide in the same place where his wife died because he didn't want to bother anyone else with his death. Ham starts speaking as if reading an epistle but instead reads the incriminating letter written by Pellegrin to Sandy. When Pellegrin realizes what's been done in front of a church full of witnesses and reporters, he storms out of the church and into a waiting car.


Inspiration and themes

The plot of the film is loosely based on a real-life case in Kano, Nigeria involving antibacterial testing by Pfizer on small children.

The film's title derives from Justin's gentle but diligent attention to his plants, a recurring background theme that informs his patience and persistence.


The film was shot partly in 16mm[3] on location in Loiyangalani and the slums of Kibera, a section of Nairobi, Kenya. Circumstances in the area so affected the cast and crew that the Constant Gardener Trust was established in 2004 in order to thank the community for their help during filming.[4]

Kate Winslet was considered for the female lead before Weisz was cast.[5]


Box office

The film's worldwide gross was $82,466,670.[6]

Critical response

On the film aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, The Constant Gardener has a "Certified Fresh" score of 84%, based on 194 critical reviews, with an average rating of 7.6/10. The consensus reads, "The Constant Gardener is a smart, gripping, and suspenseful thriller with rich performances from the leads."[7] It also has a score of 82 out of 100 on Metacritic, based on 39 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[8]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times called it "one of the year's best films."[9] USA Today noted that the film's "passion, betrayal, gorgeous cinematography, social commentary, stellar performances and clever wit puts it in a special category near perfection". However, Michael Atkinson of The Village Voice criticized the film as "a cannonballing mélange of hack-cuts, impressionistic close-ups, and tropical swelter."[10]


Main article: List of accolades received by The Constant Gardener (film)

Author's dedication and afterword

John le Carré, in the first edition of the 2001 novel on which the film is based, provided both a dedication and a personal afterword. The dedication and part of the afterword (amended) are reproduced in the closing credits of the film. The first states: "This film is dedicated to Yvette Pierpaoli and all other aid workers who lived and died giving a damn." The latter continues (in the next credit): "Nobody in this story, and no outfit or corporation, thank God, is based upon an actual person or outfit in the real world. But I can tell you this. As my journey through the pharmaceutical jungle progressed, I came to realize that, by comparison with the reality, my story was as tame as a holiday postcard." The text appears over John le Carré's name.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "The Constant Gardener (2005)". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved 11 November 2017.
  2. ^ "AFI|Catalog - The Constant Gardener". Retrieved 23 February 2020.
  3. ^ Prince, Ron. "Shooting On Film | The Changing Face Of Cinematography: Special Report". British Cinematographer. Retrieved 17 March 2022.
  4. ^ Nigel Eltringham (2013). Framing Africa: Portrayals of a Continent in Contemporary Mainstream Cinema. Berghahn Books. pp. 83–85. ISBN 9781782380740. Retrieved 29 January 2019.
  5. ^ B., Brian (13 February 2004). "Rachel Weisz to star in 'The Constant Gardener'". MovieWeb. Retrieved 17 March 2022.
  6. ^ "The Constant Gardener". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 17 March 2022.
  7. ^ "The Constant Gardener (2005)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved 6 October 2021. Edit this at Wikidata
  8. ^ "The Constant Gardener" – via
  9. ^ Ebert, Roger (1 September 2005). "The Constant Gardener review". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 11 November 2017.
  10. ^ Atkinson, Michael (23 August 2005). "Cold Comfort Pharm". The Village Voice. Retrieved 11 November 2017.