British comedy explores issues of salvation

Published October 1, 2000

THE GRACE who gets saved in this offbeat English comedy is a widow (Brenda Blethyn) who lives on the coast of Cornwall. The film begins in a churchyard at the funeral of her husband, who died jumping out of a plane without a parachute. After the funeral, Grace learns about the extent of her husband’s indebtedness: he has lived way beyond their means, has mortgaged everything and Grace is poised to lose all she has – her house, her custodian, her greenhouse. What can save her from this calamity?

It’s her soon-to-be-sacked custodian, Matthew (Craig Ferguson) who comes up with the solution. Grace is a gardener; her greenhouse-grown orchids are her pride and joy. Matthew is a Scot who enjoys a wee bit of pot now and then, and has grown a couple of plants himself, in the shade of the rectory. Why not transform the greenhouse into a marijuana growing operation, sell the weed and make some money? With a little work, Grace can be saved.

So the complications begin; keeping the “grow operation” secret in a small town is no mean feat, but when Craig’s girlfriend, Nicky (Valerie Edmond) learns that she’s pregnant, and realizes what the father-to-be is up to, she’s less than amused. Add to these factors an encounter with Grace’s husband’s former mistress, a doctor who enjoys the plants as much as Craig, and two shop owners who discover the plants, mistake them for tea, and end up enjoying themselves more than they had expected. All in all, it’s a fun romp through a village caught in extraordinary circumstances.

While it is subtle in its agenda of revealing the extent of the use of marijuana, even in a small Cornish village, Saving Grace is smart in its dealing with issues of loss and change. Grace’s life is transformed not so much by her decisions but by circumstances beyond her control. In the early scenes of the film, at the funeral and at the reception after, Grace is stoic – she’s “fine,” and assumes that all will be well. Although her circumstances are unusual, director Nigel Cole catches something important here. In this death-denying culture, there is too often the sense that things will just carry on after a loss; many of us know differently. Things change, and the saving grace is the support of a community, the love of friends and the courage to do things differently.

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Saving Grace

Directed by Nigel Cole

Starring Brenda Blethyn and Craig Ferguson ** (out of five)

PG (coarse language, substance abuse)

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Grace learns about these things, and while she deals with the dynamics of death, Nicky finds out about new life. Nicky works on the fishing boats. She’s strong, vibrant and independent. She’s excited about her pregnancy, but cool towards her partner’s flirting with danger. When Grace and Nicky finally encounter each other, Grace lives up to her name. She risks all, gets rid of the plants, finds love herself and begins a new life. In a wonderful way, death is transformed by new life, disaster is avoided, and there is a new beginning.

There’s lots to commend this movie. Brenda Blethyn turns in a first-rate performance as Grace, and, as in many British films, it is the smaller roles that are most memorable. So if you like British humour, and need a little light entertainment, you will enjoy this film. But look a little deeper and you will find an interesting exploration of the dynamics of salvation in community with a touch of grace. Peter Elliott is dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Vancouver, and a member of the board of directors of the Vancouver Film Festival.


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