Running Time: 97 minutes
Rated: Rated PG (mild violence, themes and coarse language)
Knowing nothing about Grow Your Own until I went to the press preview, I had not put this modest British film on my list for reviews for The Universe. While I watched, I soon decided that I should review it - and warmly recommend it. And it was filmed not far from The Universe offices, over in Liverpool.
The themes of this entertaining story are often the topics for many of The Universe columnists, especially those who write on justice issues and their importance for the Church. Grow Your Own is about migrants and refugees, trauma and therapy, racial bigotry, friendship, harmony and banding together to help one another.
There is great sensitivity in the writing. The co-authors are Carl Hunter who intended to make a documentary and spent over a year with many of the characters whose stories serve as the basis for the film. His material was shaped into a fiction by Liverpool writer, Frank Cottrell Boyce, who is the author of Hilary and Jackie, many of Michael Winterbottom's films and of that fine story of a little boy who sees the saints, Millions. Boyce is happy to acknowledge his Catholicism in the press releases.
Grow Your Own refers to veggies and fruit. Where they grow is in the public land made available by law in Britain and other European countries. Within this space, for a small rental, people can have 'Allotments', a shed and some ground. In the film's fictional allotment, most of the tenants are older Brits, some of them, as Boyce remarks, cranky old gits! However, some refugee and migrant families (here, from the Middle East and from Zimbabwe) have taken up the offer, giving them a work opportunity and food while their cases are being processed.
The central characters for the film are a Chinese refugee family where the father had been threatened and ousted from his land in China and who hid in a container with his wife and two children to escape to Britain. During the journey his wife died and the family had to stay concealed with the woman's body for days. He is now depressed, scarcely able to speak. The older child, a resourceful little girl, has had to take charge.
The therapist, at her wits end as to what might help, suggests that they try an allotment. On the whole, it is a success - the film is positive in its outlook. Idealistic maybe (but why not?). However, the older locals can be unfriendly and critical. Immigration officials suddenly turn up and roughly remove the middle east family (even though the father is a doctor and the allotment people don't want them to go).
To make matters worse, a mobile phone company is looking for a space to concrete, a base for a signal tower - and the rep is a hard-headed and hard-hearted career woman who assumes that kickbacks are the only way to do business. The ex-policeman elected president of the tenants is only too happy to oblige and, of course, chooses the Chinese allotment for the phone company.
There is a whole lot more going on, often at the rigorously chaired members' meetings, sometimes out in the open air, friendships and some moments of tenderness.
Many critics think that a film is no good unless it has an unhappy ending. This, according to Boyce, is miserabelist. There are some unhappy facets of the film, but it is a story with characters who illustrate in microcosm, modern British society.
RialtoOut November 6
Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.