Saturday, 15 August 2009

Grow Your Own (2007)

I think allotments are a particularly British phenomenon. They are the provision of small individual plots on communal land for gardening, particularly for growing fruit and vegetables, primarily for flat-dwellers who do not have their own gardens. The idea probably originated as a local government amenity for the so-called lower classes, but the concept has grown in popularity and there is a long waiting list in most areas for plots as they become available.

This film which is set in Liverpool finds one allotment's avid community horrified when the Council begins offering plots to newly arrived political immigrants and asylum-seekers as a form of therapy. The "Little Englanders" among them -- and this includes most of them -- are horrified at their preserve being 'invaded' by 'gypsies' and set out to make their lives as miserable as possible as ordered by their bully-spokesman, an ex-cop played by Phillip Jackson. However the three families in question from Iran, Africa, and China, gradually win over all but the most bull-headed of the locals. When a wireless telephone company gets permission to build a transmission aeriel on the site, they offer £5000 to Jackson and his committee to nominate a single plot to be demolished; he is more than happy to sacrifice one of the detested newcomers.

The unfortunate family is that of Benedict Wong a traumatised Chinese whose wife died in the container in which he and his two young children were smuggled into the country and who is just beginning to emerge from his cocoon of silence as he watches the melon seeds he has brought from home begin to grow. Wong is excellent and extremely moving in this role and his young daughter who has accepted the responsibility for looking after the family is equally good. In fact the casting, largely made up of British TV stalwarts, is excellent overall. I normally dislike Eddie Marsan who plays Jackson's harrassed son, who has a hopeless crush on the African woman, but he was just about acceptable here, especially as the worm begins to turn and rebel against his father. I also usually have trouble with the comedian Omid Djalili, but he does a fine job as the Iranian exile, a doctor in his previous life, who fears that his plea for asylum will be rejected.

Do you ever when watching some movies feel like screaming or throttling one or more of the characters on screen? Well that was the case here, particularly with Jackson and the female from the phone company as one watched their self-serving behaviour, but much as I hate to admit it, this film probably presented a fairly accurate portrayal of the deep-rooted prejudices that still ripple through British society. It was the odd portrayal of non-conformity and renewal (in every sense of the word) that gave one hope.

Produced in conjunction with the BBC, this indie had only a minimal cinema release and virtually no further distribution, which is something of a pity. I found this quirky comedy -- and despite much of the hardship depicted that is what it is -- an intelligent, warm, and ultimately realistic endeavour. If ever it comes your way, do try to have a look. The director, Richard Laxton, has just completed "An Englishman in New York " in which John Hurt revisits the role of Quentin Crisp that he created in the memorable "The Naked Civil Servant" (1975). On the strength of the film reviewed here, that should be something well worth seeing.
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