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Read past reviews by the Film Gang

Reviewed by Carla Freccero

Directed by an American, Joel Hershman, Greenfingers, now playing at the Nickleodeon in Santa Cruz , is a British romantic comedy based on a newspaper story about real-life prison gardeners.  Clearly this is one of those movies they want us to see in these trying and terrifying times: it’s heartwarming, non-violent (the violence is mostly all in the prisoners’ pasts), and it makes law enforcement look humane. Normally I would avoid a movie like this, but since the pickings are slim, and I do love gardening, not to mention Helen Mirren and Clive Owen, I went to see this one.   And, to the film’s credit, you get exactly what you expect, so you won’t be disappointed.

Clive Owen plays Colin, a taciturn convict who gets transferred to a minimum security “open” prison in the Cotswolds, along with three stock characters, a huge white bouncer-type, a Black West Indian man, and a punk kid.  There they meet Fergus, played magnificently by David Kelly, who gets Colin started on his gardening kick, first by inadvertently coaxing him into caring for his hibiscus, then by giving him a Christmas gift of double violet seeds to plant that, of course, burst into magnificent bloom come spring. Colin finds out that he has talent—green fingers—and this prompts the warden of the prison to assign him and his buddies the task of creating a garden for the prison.  Meanwhile the warden’s wife persuades Georgina Woodhouse (Helen Mirren), famous horticulturist and author of England’s most well-known books on gardening, to visit the prison and meet the guards, who study her gardening books religiously.  She does and the friendship begins, as does a budding romance between her daughter Primrose (what’s in a name?) and Colin.

Things happen, and it’s not all sweetness and light.  There is a robbery, which of course is blamed on the prisoners.  Colin gets out on parole after having discovered that he loves to give life (yeah I know gag me, but you DO get that feeling when you garden, especially if you never thought you’d be any good at it).  Unfortunately, however, he gets himself locked up again, mostly, we learn, so he can be part of the contest the prisoners enter at the prestigious Hampton Court Garden Show.  

Folks have been comparing this to The Full Monty and it definitely has a similar plot, but this film is less honest, less willing to describe the social context of these prisoners’ lives; instead, it glosses over prison life and says little or nothing about the lives of the prisoners before they found themselves incarcerated.  But like Full Monty, Greenfingers has interesting things to say about masculinity.  There’s a lot of joking about the impropriety of men engaged in this sort of activity, but the film doesn’t parody as effeminate their interest, enthusiasm and talent.  That’s one of the things that makes this definitely a British movie, not an American one:  both gardening and masculine vulnerability are taken seriously and they are treated together. 

Although the flowers in this movie and the English gardens they comprise are beautiful and colorful, the lack of any striking cinematography in their rendering disappointed me.  The movie missed a great opportunity to take horticulturism seriously as a botanical and visual phenomenon. All in all, this is a light movie, designed to distract, except of course, if you are a gardener, in which case it’s homework. Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang, this is Carla Freccero. 

Copyright Carla Feccero 2001