Colin Briggs catches a rare break in prison: he gets transfered to one of those mythical low-security, cushy prisons where there are no bars and the food is edible. Colin (Clive Owen) is too cool for it though. He refuses to bond with his elderly roommate Fergus, or to request interesting work. He pulls toilet duty of course, but it’s not long before the warden saves him from himself and assigns him to gardening.
Colin doesn’t know manure from jackshit about gardening, but it’s better than toilets, so he takes lots of books out of the library and eventually works himself up into quite a passionate froth about flowers. The warden is so impressed by the gardening crew’s efforts and so is Georgina Woodhouse (Helen Mirren), who just happens to be the author of several of those books about gardening. Between them, they arrange for some work release – for the prisoners to leave the grounds and work on designing and planting gardens for wealthy clients. Their work is so renowned that they’re invited to participate in the Great British Gardening Show, which is not at all what it’s really called, but I forget the name and don’t care to look it up. Of course, they’re prisoners, and not everyone is open-minded about that.
It’s sort of nice to see a prison warden who believes in rehabilitation, and who treats his prisoners like human beings. This movie is apparently based on a true story; the inmates of Her Majesty’s Prison Leyhill actually did excel at gardening. And finding something that they’re good at, that they can be recognized and praised for, is clearly strengthening and healing for men who have otherwise such bleak futures. It wouldn’t have to be gardening of course, but it’s nice that it is because of course the contrast between delicate flowers and big burly murderers is pretty damn satisfying.
So much of British cinema is devoted to this formula: the underdog triumphing over adversity. You root for the prisoners of course, but you won’t get overly invested because the characters aren’t that knowable, and everyone besides Colin is pretty much just petunias (haha, that’s a gardening joke for “filler”). It’s meant, of course, to be charming and up-lifting, but it’s actually quite bland and manages only mild mediocrity. Worth checking out if you miss Clive Owen’s mug, or if you have a thing for Helen Mirren in oversized floral hats, but otherwise fit for the pruning pile.