Saving Grace

A spiritedly daft and droll gem of straight-faced lunacy, "Saving Grace" harvests a bumper crop of laughs from a plot revolving around a most unlikely marijuana farmer.

With:
Grace - Brenda Blethyn Matthew - Craig Ferguson Dr. Bamford - Martin Clunes Jacques - Tcheky Karyo China - Jamie Forman Vince - Bill Bailey Nicky - Valerie Edmond Harvey - Tristan Sturrock Quentin - Clive Merrison Vicar - Leslie Phillips Honey - Diana Quick Margaret - Phyllida Law Diana - Linda Kerr Scott Sgt. Alfred - Ken Campbell

A spiritedly daft and droll gem of straight-faced lunacy, “Saving Grace” harvests a bumper crop of laughs from a plot revolving around a most unlikely marijuana farmer. Very much in the spirit of classic mid-century Brit comedies — especially “Make Mine Mink” and “The Ladykillers” — with a hint of “Local Hero” tossed in for good measure, well-cast pic is bound to click with sophisticated audiences in theatrical runs, and stands a good chance of finding even wider acceptance in ancillary venues. Fine Line shrewdly picked up North American rights during the Sundance Film Festival.

Brenda Blethyn stars to perfection as Grace Trevethan, a cheery housewife and amateur horticulturist in a tiny town on the Cornish coast. Blithely ignorant of business matters, she is rudely shaken from her complacency after her husband falls — or perhaps jumps — from an airplane without a parachute.

Grace gets the bad news from her solicitor: Her late husband amassed huge debts in various get-rich-quick schemes, almost completely depleting their bank account. Worse, if she doesn’t raise £300,000 ASAP, she stands to lose her lovely manor to creditors.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. So Grace is atypically receptive when Matthew (Craig Ferguson of “The Big Tease”), her soon-to-be-sacked Scottish gardener, requests a touch of her green thumb as he raises some cannabis for private consumption.

Together, the newly impoverished matron and the underemployed young Scotsman hatch a bold scheme to convert her orchid hothouse into an indoor marijuana farm.

Naturally, Grace tries to keep everyone but Matthew from knowing about her criminal enterprise. Just as naturally, scads of other townspeople — including the local doctor (Martin Clunes), who’s known to take a toke now and then — wise up to what’s going on. Nicky (Valerie Edmond), Matthew’s beautiful girlfriend, voices strong disapproval — and not just because she’s pregnant with his child. But all of the other knowledgeable locals look the other way, except when they’re admiring the dazzling light show provided nightly by Grace’s brightly illuminated hothouse.

The witty script, co-written by Ferguson and producer Mark Crowdy, provides a sufficient number of plot complications to keep things lively. Modest suspense is generated by the inquiries of a local constable (Ken Campbell) who’s not as thick-witted as he seems, and the introduction of a French drug lord (Tcheky Karyo) who may not be as violent as he claims.

Even so, “Saving Grace” is more character-driven than plot-propelled under director Nigel Cole’s smooth operation. The pic is generously sprinkled with off-the-wall eccentricities, and many of the funniest moments have nothing to do with the nominal storyline.

A pub owner and a patron debate the relative merits of Franz Kafka and Jackie Collins. The local vicar takes an unholy delight in latenight telecasts of Hammer horror pics. Two staid shopkeepers get blissfully, babblingly high when they inadvertently sample Grace’s homegrown product. And the French drug lord (a nice bit of self-mockery by Karyo) takes inordinate pride in making a bad impression.

To bring everything to a satisfyingly upbeat conclusion, “Saving Grace” takes a bumpy detour into deus ex machina contrivance. The transition might have been smoother had Cole and his screenwriters planted a few early hints of Grace’s literary ambitions. But never mind: Audiences likely will be too busy chuckling to complain much about the lapse of logic.

Blethyn is terrifically appealing as the surprisingly resourceful Grace, and gracefully maneuvers through a few tricky emotional turns. Whether she is awkwardly confronting her husband’s mistress or giddily sampling the joys of her first joint, Blethyn plays for keeps even as she plays for laughs.

As Grace’s partner in crime, Ferguson is an engagingly nimble farceur who hits the right notes of romantic-comedy playfulness in his scenes with Edmond. Latter makes an eye-catching entrance during pic’s opening moments as Nicky, a fishing boat captain, sheds her work gear to reveal the fetching black dress she has chosen to wear to the funeral of Grace’s husband.

Clunes, Campbell and Phyllida Law (as one of the stoned shopkeepers) are among the other standouts in the splendid ensemble.

Cinematographer John de Borman adds another notable credit to his expanding resume with his primo lensing of the Cornish locations (and, briefly, the Notting Hill environs of the French drug lord).

Eclectic pop tunes on the soundtrack — including Filter’s “Take a Picture” and Norman Greenbaum’s golden oldie “Spirit in the Sky” — add to the fun.

Saving Grace

U.K.

Production: A Fine Line Features release of a Portman Entertainment presentation, in association with Sky Pictures and Wave Pictures, of a Homerun production. Produced by Mark Crowdy. Executive producers, Cat Villiers, Xavier Marchand. Co-producers, Craig Ferguson, Torsten Leschley. Directed by Nigel Cole. Screenplay, Craig Ferguson, Mark Crowdy.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color), John de Borman; editor, Alan Strachan; production designer, Eve Stewart; music, Mark Russell; costume designer, Annie Symons; sound (Dolby Digital), John Midgley; assistant director, Mark Griffiths; casting, Gail Stevens. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (World Cinema), Jan. 24, 1999. Running time: 94 MIN.

With: Grace - Brenda Blethyn Matthew - Craig Ferguson Dr. Bamford - Martin Clunes Jacques - Tcheky Karyo China - Jamie Forman Vince - Bill Bailey Nicky - Valerie Edmond Harvey - Tristan Sturrock Quentin - Clive Merrison Vicar - Leslie Phillips Honey - Diana Quick Margaret - Phyllida Law Diana - Linda Kerr Scott Sgt. Alfred - Ken Campbell

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