Whimsical feel-good story that takes place mainly in a traditional English country house and garden - that just happens to be an open prison. Saved from sentimentality by the integrity of Clive Owen, Natasha Little, and the remarkable David Kelly, genuinely moving as an old, dying prisoner who knows he will never be released. Indeed, so emaciated is he that you half-expect one of those 'In memory of'' end credits. It's a great relief to find the actor still going strong 10 years down the line!
Time Out saysBased on the true story of a group of prisoners which won several prizes at the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, this comedy is populated with English eccentrics and steeped in whimsy. Its theme - ordinary people achieving the extraordinary - is standard Ealing, and the gardening is treated with suitably affectionate reverence. This, unsurprisingly, is a fabricated vision of rural Britain rather than anything recognisably real: country folk drive vintage cars and live in crumbling mansions crammed with liftable heirlooms (spot the plot point?). Mirren's aristo celebrity gardener is from another age. Unfortunately, there's also a didactic tone, with the theme of redemption being hammered home at every opportunity, while the metaphor of convicted murderers finding peace in the act of creating new life (albeit in lupins rather than humans) is clumsy and self-satisfied. More positively, its sentimental tendencies are tempered by Owen, impressive in the central role of a prisoner institutionalised since the age of seventeen.