The production notes for this film present it, with disarming candour, as a "heartwarming marijuana comedy". This is absolutely accurate. A splendid variation on the My Mother Frank (2000) school of filmmaking, this charming movie is all about how dope (growing, selling and smoking it) saves the life of a widow, Grace (Brenda Blethyn).
As in Anjelica Huston's Agnes Browne (1999), this Cornish widow finds herself struggling after the sudden death of her man. Also like Agnes, Grace finds herself eagerly, if sheepishly, discussing the niceties of sex – not with her best friend, this time, but her husband's ex-mistress.
Grace, a gifted gardener, eventually strikes up an alliance with the local, amateur dope dealer, Matthew (Craig Ferguson, who co-wrote the script with Mark Crowdy). The amount of power they need to illuminate Grace's greenhouse each night turns it into a veritable cathedral – a sight that draws the awestruck admiration of many sozzled inhabitants of the town.
This could so easily have been a twee fable about life's second chances, right down there with stinkers like Siam Sunset (1999). But, for once in this genre, the balance of elements is beautifully crafted.
Ferguson brings a lovely, friendly intimacy to his rapport with Blethyn – who is, mercifully, far less mannered than usual. Valerie Edmond as Nicky, Matthew's puzzled girlfriend, adds another level of poignancy.
The film ascends to an even more whimsical level of fantasy once the tough guys of London's drug underworld – especially ringleader Jacques (Tchéky Karyo) – enter the plot. Elements of danger and suspense jostle with an unlikely romantic intrigue: Jacques finds himself strangely respectful of Grace, this self-made woman.
One has to abandon oneself to the giddy frivolity of this film – subversive message and all. Director Nigel Cole keeps the brew bubbling nicely with various sub-plots and many eccentric characters. Saving Grace gives middle-of-the-road filmmaking a good name, for a change.
© Adrian Martin October 2000