American-director Joel Hershman (Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me) has taken the seeds of an unusual real-life phenomenon — British prisoners competing in prestigious gardening shows — and grown a lovely tale of one man blossoming through horticulture. Greenfingers opens with Colin Briggs (Clive Owen) breaking his parole (stealing a bouquet of yellow roses from a flower shop) and flashes back to show why.
Already imprisoned for 15 years and closed-up emotionally, Colin is transferred to a progressive open prison, a sort of halfway house which is meant to prepare him for a new life outside. It’s here that Colin inadvertently discovers that he has “greenfingers,” an instinctive gift with plants. In quick succession, the prison’s ragtag band of gardeners becomes the cause célèbre of horticultural diva Georgina Woodhouse (steel magnolia Helen Mirren). She sponsors them for the prestigious Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, and Colin germinates a tentative romance with her flower-phobic publicist daughter, Primrose (Natasha Little).
That Colin’s transformation comes after he realizes he can create life instead of just destroying it is very much the point of Greenfingers, and a strong, unsentimental performance from Owen (Croupier) makes a cloyingly sweet premise genuinely moving. Director Hershman also employs restraint whenever the film could get too flowery for its own good, peppering the earnest speeches of reformers with a sense of their own limitations, and giving Colin’s elderly roommate (Waking Ned Devine’s David Kelly) — a kindly philosopher with a violent past — a sly, disarming sense of humor.
“The best place to seek God is in a garden,” says the warden (Warren Clarke) quoting George Bernard Shaw. “You can dig for him there.”
Greenfingers takes the British obsession with cultivating their green and pleasant land and shows how working the soil truly is the great social leveler.
Opens Friday exclusively at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple, W of Telegraph). Call 248-542-0180.
Visit the official Greenfingers Web site at greenfingersmovie.com.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.