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Grow Your Own
cast: Benedict Wong, Eddie Marsan, Philip Jackson, Omid Djalili, and Nathalie Armin

director: Richard Laxton

97 minutes (PG) 2007
widescreen ratio 16:9
Pathé DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart
Based on a series of 'three-minute wonder' films aired by Channel Four, this is quietly one of the best films to come out of England in the last few years. It follows a Liverpool based allotment plot and what happens when three groups of immigrants are given an allotment each as a means of helping put down roots.

Ranged against them are Big John (Philip Jackson), and Little John (Eddie Marsan), the ex-policeman and son who run the allotments. Somewhere in between are characters like Alice (Olivia Colman), and Barbara (Joanna Scanlan), who run the supply store, and Kenny (Alan Williams), the wilfully confrontational old man who owns the only allotment with a blue shed, where all the others are red. Trapped in the middle are Ali (Omid Djalili) and his family, Soraya (Nathalie Armin) who is convinced her husband will come to find her and Kung Sang (Benedict Wong) and his children, a man crippled with guilt at what he had to do to get to England. Which, let's face it, sounds like the worst sort of po-faced worthy drama that English cinema regularly inflicts on us. It's not, instead becoming a remarkably pragmatic and oddly touching story about how people, fundamentally, get on with one another.

At the centre of the storm and the film, Wong, Armin and Djalili do great work as the immigrants with Armin's slightly brittle optimism and Wong's silent, desperate widower both real standouts. There's a wonderful moment where he confesses what happened to a completely random character that says a great deal not only about the English character but about how people view the world. It's funny and touching and bleak all at once and Wong carries it with nothing more than a look.

However, he really comes into his own when paired with Williams. The combination of this tall, laconic immigrant and the short, hairy, perpetually embittered local is comedy gold all by itself but there's something deeper to the friendship, something that rings very true. These are both men who have lost a tremendous amount and the understated, gentle way in which they become part of one another's family is genuinely affecting to watch. Williams is on top form here too, a deadpan, savagely funny and deeply embittered figure who is gifted with many of the film's best lines.

It's a remarkably evenhanded script however, with everyone getting a moment to shine. Jackson is excellent as the monstrous Big John, as is Marsan as his oddly sympathetic son, whilst Colman's unforced, sweet performance as Alice gives some of the later scenes real dramatic weight. Even Sarah Hadland as a poisonous mobile phone rep, and Roland Manookian as her good-hearted assistant, are given space to move and register and their characters are little more than cameos.

Grow Your Own is a quiet, unobtrusive movie about a quiet, unobtrusive subject. But it's a gem of a film; packed with great performances, gentle humour and moments of unforced, very real emotion. A grower, in the best possible sense...
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