Helen MirrenNatasha LittlePaterson JosephWarren Clarke
Medium: film
Year: 2000
Writer/director: Joel Hershman
Actor: Clive Owen, Helen Mirren, David Kelly, Warren Clarke, Danny Dyer, Adam Fogerty, Paterson Joseph, Natasha Little, Peter Guinness, Lucy Punch, Sally Edwards, Donald Douglas, Kevin McMonagle, Julie Saunders, Jordan Maxwell, David Lyon, Jan Chappell
Country: UK, USA
Format: 91 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0203540/
Website category: British
Review date: 29 March 2011
It's nice. There's nothing particularly interesting about it, but it's nice.
It's loosely based on a true story about a group of prisoners at HMP Leyhill, a low-security jail in the Cotswolds, England. They made a great success of gardening. This movie version of their story is exactly what you'd imagine it to be... stuffed with thoroughly respectable British actors, quite sweet and impossible to dislike. It's just that it didn't grab me either. It's staid and predictable. Everything unfolds as you know it's going to, which turns the movie into the genteel cinematic equivalent of wallpaper. It would be quite good playing in the background if you're doing something else, since you'd be able to follow the story perfectly well even if you were only watching five minutes in every twenty.
The other feature of the movie that needs discussing is Clive Owen, or to be more precise "the Oscar-nominated Clive Owen". (That was for Closer in 2004.) He's not exactly dazzling us with his personality. There's a null at the centre of this movie, which is a shame since as I said there's nothing wrong with the movie at all and a more dynamic central performance could have lifted it up into something much more engaging. However he does have the excuse that he's being faithful to the character, who's actively hostile towards making emotional attachments with other people and is carrying guilt about his crime that means he wishes every day that someone would kill him. This is not an outgoing character.
You could certainly do more with the role than Clive Owen does, but equally you couldn't possibly say that his acting choices are incorrect. Besides, I quite like the way he lets gardening soften him. He's so cold for so long that it's quite nice to see him unbend a little later on.
It's a safe film, if you know what I mean. This is a prison movie, yet the only character who's even spiky is Helen Mirren's celebrity gardening expert. In fairness, this makes sense. This is a minimum-security jail whose inmates have been hand-picked to give no trouble and who all know that doing anything silly will just get them whisked back to Wormwood Scrubs. The result is a film that's gentle, even twee. It's just the ticket if you're looking for a cosy Britflick with a bit of romance, a little humour and plenty of optimism.
The cast are the main reason to watch this film. Helen Mirren's standing out a mile as the one character here with sharp edges. (If you haven't heard of Dame Helen, then let me point you in the direction of her Oscar, SAG and Emmy awards, BAFTAs, Golden Globes and awards at the Cannes Film Festival.) However Natasha Little makes quite a lot of what could have been a bland role, while the men at the prison include Paterson Joseph, Danny Dyer and Warren Clarke. The one who runs away with the film though is David Kelly as an elderly Irish inmate who's a bit like Quentin Crisp and has a philosophical attitude and a ton of charm. I was wondering if he was ex-IRA or something, but no. In case you've never heard of him, he was the useless builder called O'Reilly who got beaten up by Prunella Scales in Fawlty Towers.
This is a nice film. It has a nice ending and understated humour. I laughed at the "murderer" line with Helen Mirren, for instance. It also shows some nude male buttocks, if you're interested in such things. It's the kind of film in which convicted prisoners aren't noticeably stupid, violent or even criminally inclined, but then again that's the whole point of this institution and they were hand-picked for it. Besides, it's a true story. HMP Leyhill exists and they really did produce a group of award-winning gardeners. This is the kind of film that you could watch painlessly through to the end and agree with your friends afterwards that it was pleasant and enjoyable... but you might well also never get that far, having instead changed the channel and watched something else.