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Plot of gold

We go to the world premiere of Grow Your Own. But how does it rate? Read on...

Published on June 18th 2007.


Plot of gold

All flourishing plots must start with a seed – it's the same for a vegetable patch as an idea for a movie.

But few plots come ready made. If they do, and only if they are nurtured with utmost skill, you may eventually strike gold.

When ex-Farm bass player and documentary filmmaker Carl Hunter was approached by a refugee charity over in Liverpool, and asked to make a short fundraiser video, it was a while before he realised that the roots of an extraordinary feature film were right there in front of him.

This film plays for belly laughs and anguish in quickfire hits. The tears flow in equal measure.

It was psychologist Magrit Ruegg who had got in touch. She runs the Family Refugee Support Project in Toxteth. The people she works with have mental scars. Many have suffered terribly in their home countries, and are trying to cope with the frequently hostile atmosphere of this one.

Prozac isn't prescribed to ease them through their depression, their anxiety or their lethargy (asylum seekers aren't allowed to work). Instead her charity gives them council allotments to tend. Ground breaking, in every sense.

You might, then, think this is not the obvious fodder for a “rollicking British feelgood comedy” flick. Wrong. Grow Your Own, the fictionalised feature film account of the project, is that and so much more.

The refugees were initially the subject of a short C4 documentary - any more was too much for Hunter's real life subjects to cope with. But then he forged an alliance with the man who wrote 24-Hour Party People, near neighbour Frank Cottrell Boyce, and a movie was born. Now they are immortalised by an ensemble of actors including comic Omid Djalili, Diveen Henry, Manchester's Sophie Lee and Jeffrey Li.

Their stories are rewritten and dramatised on an elaborate allotment set, purpose built on the banks of the Mersey, however non-specific northern accents, from actors such as Eddie Marsan, John Henshaw (Early Doors), Rodney Litchfield and Philip Jackson, ensure that Grow Your Own is difficult to label by location.

In the capable hands of its creators and director, Richard Laxton, Grow Your Own is a high tragedy, high comedy rollercoaster that bounces along. Stunning photography and one of the tightest scripts and/or editing jobs in years make it fly.

From the opening moments when Kenny (Alan Williams), fleeing Christmas dinner, trudges out into the snow to the sanctuary of his patch of land, to the perfectly rounded finish, this film plays for belly laughs and anguish in alternate quickfire hits. The tears flow in equal measure.

Every gardener at Blacktree Road allotments has a different reason to be there. British or foreign, they are all refugees, from their marriages or their pasts. When a mobile phone company shrew steps in (played evilly by Sophie Stanton) the spectre of corporate greed falls across their bit of land.At the heart of all this is Kung Sang (Benedict Wong) a kind of Yosser Hughes of his moment. He is a Chinese refugee, led and said by his bright children, Phoenix and Dragon. He has witnessed unspeakable horror, so he cannot speak. He can no longer hold his children or look after them, so they get along anyhow. “I'm only a little girl,” Phoenix memorably tells her brother .

But slowly things change. Their dad has seeds, eventually he plants one and one day, a long time after, one sprouts. A cinematic moment.

Grow Your Own is a very clever film: The plots, subplots and characters unfold like rose petals on a speeding nature camera, one after another - rotation crops- so there is always someone or something fresh to feast on.

The film received its world premiere at Liverpool's Philharmonic Hall earlier this week. Carl Hunter addressed the packed, cheering house and, at the end of 96 minutes, asked could a film make a difference.

If a film like this, about the very essence of what makes us human can't make a difference, then we're stuffed.

Will the press who have brought the cause of refugees into such disrepute be bigging up Grow Your Own? They might, but they will almost certainly forget to mention asylum seekers anywhere in their blurbs.

Grow Your Own has got a powerful message and if middle England go to see it merely because they like Alan Titchmarsh then all good and well.

If they come away feeling stirred by something else, too, then Mr Hunter will have indeed struck gold.

*Grow Your Own, in cinemas nationwide this Friday.

Angie Sammons

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JulieJune 18th 2007.

Can you please advise where the film is showing.

AnonymousJune 18th 2007.

On general release around Manchester. Certainly city centre Odeon.

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