Dir: Joel Hershman. UK-US. 2000. 91 mins.
Prod Co: Boneyard Entertainment. Int'l Sales: Overseas Filmgroup (1) 310 855 1199. Prods: Travis Swords, Daniel J Victor. Exec prod: Trudie Styler. Scr: Joel Hershman. DoP: John Daly. Prod des: Tim Hutchison. Ed: Justin Krish. Mus: Guy Dagul. Main cast: Clive Owen, Helen Mirren, David Kelly, Natasha Little, Warren Clarke.
Inspired by true events, Greenfingers is a gentle, understated charmer that audiences will take to their hearts. A deft mixture of human drama and unforced humour, it has an undeniable emotional pull that could be nurtured into a global winner on the lines of such recent British success stories as Saving Grace and Waking Ned. In a Britain seemingly obsessed with all things horticultural, the combination of the subject matter and cast should guarantee a robust box-office.
Yet to attain the level of film stardom his talent would merit, Clive Owen (Bent, Close My Eyes) impresses with an intelligent, well-judged performance as Colin, a convicted murderer nearing the end of his sentence.
Transferred to an open prison, he is befriended by philosophical old lag Seamus (Kelly) who presents him with a packet of seeds as a Christmas gift.
Against the odds, the seeds blossom into beautiful double-violets and Colin finds his vocation as a gardener. Encouraged by the governor and high society horticulturalist Georgina (Mirren), Colin and his fellow inmates are eventually invited to prepare a show garden for competition at Hampton Court.
Although straying towards sentimentality at times, Greenfingers remains rooted in the reality of the situation and the sturdy conviction of Owen's performance as a man suddenly able to see a world beyond the grinding guilt and misery of his own circumstances.
Writer-director Hershman allows the humour to develop organically from the characters and rightly feels no need to impose the kind of farcical elements that flawed Saving Grace. Pitching her performance midway between Deborah Kerr gentility and Margaret Rutherford eccentricity, Mirren also resists the temptation to go over the top and adds further delight to a little film with a big appeal.