Reviewed By Thom
Posted 08/15/01 04:27:36

"Better than a stick in the eye"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

A charming film about prisoners in an experimental "open prison" who attract the attention of society gardening maven Georgina Woodhouse (Helen Mirren). Thankfully it isn't cucumber sandwiches and porcelain tea cups charming. It's got some of that "Gardening can turn hardened criminals who have given up on their lives into caring, creative, nurturing people" but its more about the relationships between all these different people who are thrown together partly by fate, partly by their choices.

Firgus (David Kelly) is near the end of his life and thus his life sentence. Colin (Clive Owen) ends up as his cell mate. Colin isn't interested in making friends, he just wants to do his time and get out. Firgus gives Colin a packet of seeds as a Christmas gift and Colin, thinking he'll get over on the old man, plants them in the hard, limey soil of the prison grounds in the dead of winter knowing that they'll die and that will be the end of that. But the following Spring, he finds that the seeds have thrived. He falls in love with the idea that something could grow in that environment and gets in a fight to protect the fragile plant. As a punishment, the governor of the prison creates a new job for the prisoners involved in the brawl: gardening. The prisoners take to it and throw themselves completely into gardening. It turns out Colin has something of a green thumb and he leads the team to create an award winning garden.

If one's garden is a reflection of one's soul then you'd expect that the process involved in creating a garden would include some self-reflection. The garden that the prisoners create is not only fitting for them, but an interesting idea for a garden. Greenfingers is full of unexpected and humorous moments. Everyone is something of a rebel, even Georgina Woodhouse, who after her initial shock at meeting the prisoners takes to hanging out with ruffians.

There is a cute scene where the prisoners, through Georgina, get a job working for a local gentleman and his lover. One of the prisoners, a young and attractive young man is about to whip out his dick and take a piss just under the window where the two men are surveying the work. The older of the two says to the prisoner, "you know, we have a loo" and his lover looks at him and says, "aren't you a spoilsport". After watching Clive Owen's crotch for an hour, I was hoping for a little show myself. Okay, to be fair, Owen can act, and that helps even if you are so beautiful that you could just stand around on screen and it would be worth the price of admission. But really, are you going to see this movie for the acting?

For the record, like all British movies, the actors are thespians with formal training in theatre and everyone has done a half dozen Shakespeare plays. I guess playing Ophelia either builds character or adds credibility. They take acting very seriously in England whereas in America, a series of improv exercises or an acting coach can help a pretty face make a bunch of money.

A 1998 article written by Paula Dietz in the New York Times, "Free to Grow Bluebells in England inspired the film.

There were lots of old people at the screening I went to, but I don't think this is really "safe entertainment" for the geriatric set. Maybe the whole idea of gardening and society and manners appeals to older people but one of the main characters is an old man who dies. I wonder where the publicist found all those people? Perhaps they though Helen Mirren would lead the film but she's anything but a conservative actress.

Her most visible role in Prime Suspect is hardly her most remarkable role. She's shown time and again that she likes the edge and skates through progressive and mature art-house films with ease.
And Clive Owen got all that exposure in the BMW Internet film series working with super hot directors like Guy Ritchie and Ang Lee. Theoretically, super-hot and internet do not compute with my grandparents who spend most of their day in bed or watching network television. But they do with me!

The movies mellow pace make it a relaxing but visually and intellectually stimulating film that even satisfies our morbid curiosity about what people did to get put behind bars. An old man may not be a danger to anyone but who knows what murderous intent poisoned his youth. The moral of the story: "Just because you are a hot headed soccer hooligan who can't control his anger and makes a tragic, life-changing mistake doesn't mean you can't one day discover a rehabilitating beauty in the most unlikely of places."

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