David Kelly and Clive Owen in Greenfingers (2000)

The Light Fingered Greenfingers

"Greenfingers" is the sort of light hearted comedy which only British cinema can make, a mixed bag of characters, an amusing situation and a blend of fun jokes and dark comedy. Basically it puts a smile on your face, be it a joke about a prim gardening guru loving a bit of rough, tough prisoners talking about violets or the friendship which forms between an old prisoner and his young room mate. Having said that whilst for 45 minutes "Greenfingers" is a simple joy it unfortunately loses momentum for a while, becoming rather ordinary and cliche before then recapturing the amusement and fun towards the end.

Having spent over a decade inside Colin Briggs (Clive Owen - Croupier) has got use to the tough regime and doesn't want to be moved to Edgefield an open prison but he has no choice. Despite trying to keep himself to himself he meets Fergus Wilks (David Kelly - Waking Ned), an old prisoner who he warms to and through Wilks discovers that he likes gardening. It is not just Briggs who discovers his love of gardening as Governor Hodge (Warren Clarke) has Briggs, Wilks and several other men start creating a prison garden which not only brings them to the attention of gardening guru Georgina Woodhouse (Helen Mirren) but also leads to an invitation to display a garden at a prestigious flower show.

Helen Mirren as Georgina Woodhouse in Greenfingers (2000)

The storyline to "Greenfingers" is simple prisoners transferred to an open prison transform not only the grounds but also themselves through gardening to the point they get work release and are invited to present a garden at the Hampton Court Flower Show. But then it is not so much the main storyline which makes "Greenfingers" works but all the small little things, small stories, small scenes, one liners, the way someone acts which makes it work. So for example we have Colin Briggs who after a decade plus in prison has built a barrier around himself, doesn't talk, doesn't make friends all very typical but when he is put in a room with old quirky prisoner Fergus Wilks a friendship forms. It is a friendship which lets us in because it is Wilks who gets Briggs gardening, it is Wilks through being very ill gets him to start caring and seeing that there is a possibility for himself.

But then this friendship is just part of the collective so we also get Jack the lad Tony who falls for Holly, one of the prisons canteen staff, and they sneak into the trees for some alone time. Throw on top of that man mountain Raw who when he sets about gardening sits there on the ground legs out stretched like a little boy. It is all very hard to explain but so typically British with these funny characters, the funny situation of the them doing gardening and the funnier situation that pompous gardening guru Georgina Woodhouse is impressed by them.

This all works fine and for the first 45 minutes "Greenfingers" works with one smile moment after another. But then when Colin gets out, something which we actually learn at the start of the movie, things lose their momentum because it focuses purely on Colin struggling in the outside world. It also sees him struggle when it comes to Georgina because having fallen in laugh with her daughter Primrose, Georgina is horrified. Thankfully after a spell of becoming a bit meandering "Greenfingers" manages to recapture the constant flow of humour which filled the first half.

Much of the success of "Greenfingers" comes down to great writing and a director who has confidence in the story and humour to not over dress things with fancy camera work, but it is also the casting which as a collective is brilliant. Clive Owen is perfect as the brooding Colin and he works so brilliant with David Kelly who once again is sublime as a quirky old character. Adam Fogerty is visually amusing as Raw, especially when he sits like a little school boy in the mud plus Danny Dyer is the man when you want a jack the lad type character. And I could go on because the rest of the cast which includes Paterson Joseph, Warren Clarke, Helen Mirren, Natasha Little and Lucy Punch are all excellent in their roles.

What this all boils down to is that "Greenfingers" is every ounce a modern light hearted British Comedy the sort which only the British can make and get right. It does at times lose its way but for the most this is the sort of the movie which throws laugh after laugh at you be it a clever line of dialogue, the way a character acts or just the way this collective of characters become friends.

Tags: British Romantic Comedies