The allotment holds a curious place in Englishmen’s hearts. A haven from home, where people can toil, relax or commune with nature. Trouble is, being more greenhouse than Grindhouse, Grow Your Own has a whiff of something uprooted from Sunday-night telly. In other words, your mum would love it. But Richard Laxton’s comedy-drama also has a real heart and charm that defies cynicism, batting away the spectre of Alan Titchmarsh for an hour and a half.
It’s loosely based on a real-life Liverpudlian allotment, where traumatised Balkan Civil War refugees were given plots of land as a source of both sustenance and therapy. The story tracks a year in the lives of the various plot-holders of Blacktree Road Allotment, whose quiet world is ruffled by two new arrivals: Diveen Henry’s widowed Zimbabwean émigré Miriam (with son in tow) and broken, Chinese mute Kung Sang (Benedict Wong, who recently caught a similar case of mental sunstroke in Sunshine), who’s unable to care for his two kids. As the seasons pass, the elder tenants and their new neighbours begin to connect and, inevitably, grow along with their produce.
Given such gentle subject matter, the director – whose Life & Lyrics was a taut and racy affair – loses an uphill battle to inject a sense of urgency. Plying his pen for the first time since his split with Michael Winterbottom, screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce also eschews the flights of fancy that dusted A Cock And Bull Story and Danny Boyle’s Millions. Instead, he and co-writer Carl Hunter (formerly of ’90s Scouse also-rans The Farm) lace their comic whimsy with the ever present – and brutally real – threat from immigration officers.
A strong cast of instantly recognisable TV faces infuse their stock characters with warmth and humour, with Eddie Marsan – taking time out from his stealthy rise in Hollywood flicks like The Illusionist and Mission: Impossible III – winning first prize as shy Little John, slowly flowering out of his Parka. But it’s the film’s good-natured optimism towards humanity that’ll harvest many satisfied viewers along the way: a shiny, happy movie that doesn’t lay it on with a trowel.