- Clive Owen as Colin Briggs
- Helen Mirren as Georgina Woodhouse
- David Kelly as Fergus Wilks
- Warren Clark as Governor Hodge
- Adam Fogerty as Raw
- Danny Dyer as Tony
- Paterson Joseph as Jimmy
- Natasha Little as Primrose Woodhouse
A warm comedy-drama that is loosely based on a true story, Greenfingers has enough humour and pathos in it to make it enjoyable. It may not quite reach the heights of films where the characters are not expected to be good at something but are, but Greenfingers is pleasant viewing tempered with some touching moments.
Colin Briggs is a taciturn convict whose serving out the final years of his sentence for a crime he doesn’t speak of. He is then transferred, although he isn’t too keen on this, to a minimum security prison known as Edgehill, where inmates are given a bit more freedom than the average prison and they work to help when they finish their sentences. Colin is the kind of person who can described as antisocial as he keeps himself to himself and doesn’t really form any emotional ties, instead preferring to be quiet and contained. His barriers are worn down by the old, frail lifer Fergus Wilks, who is amiable and charismatic despite failing health. At Christmas, kindly Fergus who often speaks of redemption, who is a fan of gardening, gives the quiet Colin a bag of flower seeds. Reluctantly, Colin plants them not expecting much to happen. In fact, by the time spring rolls around, the seeds grow into beautiful violas that even Colin is surprised about. The firm but warm Governor Hodge takes a look and seeing the talent, asks Colin and Fergus to make a garden; one to boost some morale and two because he wants to promote a good image of the prison and how people can change. Colin is initially unsure of this but is soon discovering his skills in the area and becoming more of a complete person who is a lot more open. Helping them in this venture and also discovering themselves are the large muscle man Raw, who is generally quite soft-spoken despite his massive physical strength, Western Indian father Jimmy, who wants to show his kid that he can be a good person and naughty lad Tony, who is always chasing a female member of staff. The resulting garden is a marvel and it eventually catches the eye of celebrated garden diva Georgina Woodhouse, who brings them on board to help her in her flower circle. She then has the idea to sponsor the group to compete in the Hampton Court Flower Show, after developing a kind relationship with them, despite her reservations at first regarding them. Although Governor Hodge is thrilled by this as he has a fondness for the boys and the boys now finding more purpose in their lives, many others see it as impossible for them to compete due to their less than savory reputations and past misdeeds. It is now down to Colin and his men to prove them all wrong. Can these men, who nothing much is though of actually compete with the posh totty?
Joel Hershman amiably directs this film with a brisk pace that also pauses for moments of drama to weave in. Thankfully, the humour of this unlikely group of guys becoming great gardeners is warm and witty. There are occasions when the treacle is laid on a bit too thick for my liking, but thankfully Greenfingers regains composure and makes a lot of moments surprising touching as well as outrageously funny, due to some salty language and fish-out-of-water mishaps that the group encounter. Despite it being a comedy, with drama in the mix, Greenfingers at its core is a film about second chances and redemption. This is embodied by the role of Governor Hodge, who believes in giving people the benefit of the doubt and helping them, rather than judging them for what they may have done in the past. And as you watch the team go about their work after seeing the passion in it, you can’t help but raise a smile and feel a sense of inspiration running through it. And while the symbolism of flowers blooming and tending to them is an obvious metaphor for rebirth, the film avoids being pat about it and instead brings a sort of crowd-pleasing love to it. While a lot of the story works, the subplot of Colin falling for Georgina’s daughter feels a bit rushed, but with that being the only real part of the film that doesn’t flow, Greenfingers emerges as a winner. A bouncy soundtrack and underlying score of touching emotion provide both a gleeful exuberance and underpinned current of depth to Greenfingers.
Above all, it is the cast of Greenfingers that make it brim with wit and heartwarming charm. As the leading man of the bunch, Clive Owen displays the quiet and taciturn personality of Colin, who at the beginning has basically given up on life. Owen marvellously conveys Colin’s second chance and how he discovers how to open up once more, through a smile here and a laugh there. Helen Mirren is having a ball here, embodying the vivacious Georgina with colour and vitality, plus a refreshingly biting and haughty wit. Mirren is an actress who never lets me down and here is no different. The character of Fergus, who is the first to notice Colin’s horticultural skills, is played with eccentric charm and just visible sadness by David Kelly. It is through him that many of the touching moments from Greenfingers emerge and his acting alongside Clive Owen is superb. Warren Clark exudes a kind-hearted but necessary authority to the role of the warden, who is thrilled by the progress the men are making and is a real help to them all. As the rest of the unlikely gardeners, Adam Fogerty, Danny Dyer and Paterson Joseph all make impacts as the muscled but soft Raw, cheeky chappy Tony and determined Jimmy respectively. The only person in the cast who doesn’t make that much of an impression is Natasha Little. Actually none of this is down to her, as she is sweet enough, but her character is just written to thin to make a mark.
So while it is a bit predictable at times and occasionally lays on the sentimentality, Greenfingers can be forgiven for these things due to the game cast, humour and sense of inspiration it shows.