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  • PG
  • Comedy
  • 2007
  • 97 mins

Grow Your Own

Grow Your Own

Synopsis

Gardeners at an English allotment are shaken up when a group of refugees are given plots there. Homegrown British comedy co-written by Frank Cottrell Boyce (24 Hour Party People, A Cock And Bull Story)

About

As therapies for dealing with the horror of war, exile or family separation go, you wouldn't think that growing cabbages would do much good. The Family Refugee Support Project refutes that presumption in spades. And soil. And seeds. From which sprouted the premise for Grow Your Own.

Founded in Bootle, the FRSP takes traumatized asylum seekers and provides patches of land in a local allotment on which these people can develop a sense of purpose and self-sufficiency. Filmmaker Carl Hunter originally conceived of making a feature-length documentary about the project, only to realise that refugees don't necessarily want British cameras in their faces 24/7. Collaborating with his friend, esteemed screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce, they went the fictional route instead.

Down at the Blacktree Road Allotments the motley crew of Great British oddballs, headed by despotic former copper Big John (Jackson) and his browbeaten son Little John (Marsan) are suddenly faced with an influx of immigrants: garrulous Iranian doctor Ali (Djalili) and his family; Zimbabwean single mother Miriam (Henry); and most mysteriously of all, catatonic Chinese Kung Sang (Wong) and his two plucky children.

Threatened by this intrusion to their little disunited kingdom, Big John enforces hardline allotment rules - all sheds painted the same colour, no al fresco eating - that if broken, can lead to expulsion. Naturally it's not just the newcomers who object to these Draconian measures, notably the cantankerous Kenny (Williams). But soon a bigger, all-encompassing danger rears up in the shape of a mobile phone company determined to install a mast on the allotment, eliminating at least one vegetable patch. And so the plots thicken.

Allotments are fascinating, frankly odd self-contained worlds, so it's a wonder no one has exploited their potential onscreen before. Here, the idea of literally giving your land to foreigners for them to make something of, and then sharing whatever is produced - or not - is fertile dramatic ground. Add the inherent comedy of the cranky British eccentric, and there's a veritable hothouse of juicy metaphors and mouth-watering themes to cultivate.

Thankfully the consistently adroit Cottrell Boyce and Hunter's script largely avoids 'We Are The World'-style preaching. As in Millions, ostensibly a kids' film about spending stolen cash that touched on everything from sainthood to the Euro, Cottrell Boyce's quietly subversive facility for examining contemporary issues (immigration, multi-culturalism, eco-living) through genre shines through. The deeper implications are there, but never at the expense of an entertaining story.

He's helped by a crack cast of veteran British character actors and a stunning allotment set so lived-in and authentic that it will probably be unjustly overlooked for any production design awards. Director Richard Laxton, in a real change of pace from recent rap drama Life And Lyrics, keeps the numerous story strands deftly woven together.

The mellow pace does lag, Kung Sang's prolonged silence in particular dragging on a little too long, and some climactic contrivances are rather too neat. Yet overall, Grow Your Own's small-scale charms celebrate both British film - especially the traditions of ensemble Ealing comedies and Bill Forsyth (Gregory's Girl, Local Hero) - and modern Britain itself.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Eddie Marsan, Alan Williams, Philip Jackson, Diveen Henry, Benedict Wong, Omid Djalili, Olivia Colman
  • Director: Richard Laxton
  • Screen Writer: Frank Cottrell Boyce, Carl Hunter
  • Producer: Luke Alkin, Barry Ryan
  • Photographer: David Luther
  • Composer: Martin Phipps, Simon Whiteside

In a nutshell

A gentle, astute, life-affirming British comedy. Dig in.

by Leigh Singer

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