Rated R - Running Time: 1:34 - Released 9/1/00

Another clever British comedy to quietly work its way into American theatres when we need it the most, Saving Grace features a funny story, good performances, and directing designed to evoke real people, not Hollowwood stereotypes. Two time Oscar nominee and Golden Globe winner Brenda Blethyn (Secrets & Lies, Little Voice), under the direction of film freshman Nigel Cole, delivers a charming portrayal of a bereaved woman forced to take drastic measures to pay off her late husband's staggering debts.

In a typically wacky British script written by Mark Crowdy and Blethyn's Scottish co-star Craig Ferguson, Grace Trevethyn's husband doesn't just die of natural causes. He jumps out of an airplane without a parachute. Although Grace (Blethyn) has no idea what would drive him to such a desperate act, she soon discovers the bad news: his entire fortune, including the large, lovely house she lives in, is currently in hock with an outstanding debt of 300,000 pounds. With no work experience and no skills except her incredible knack at gardening, Grace has no idea how to deal with the mounting bills and her imminent eviction, but when her young friend Matthew (Ferguson) asks her to help him save his ailing marijuana plants, she gets an idea. Soon she and Matthew have a greenhouse full of thriving dope, and he plans a trip to London to find a buyer.

Most everyone in the small town is aware of the plan, especially the town's weed-loving doctor (Martin Clunes, Shakespeare in Love), except for one person: Matthew's girlfriend Nicky (Valerie Edmond). Having just discovered she's expecting Matthew's child, Nicky has no desire to see him behind bars when the child is born. So Grace, who is completely inexperienced in the world of drug trafficking, must make the London trip herself. Soon she is standing on a streetcorner in Picadilly Circus, offering a fattie to anyone with dredlocks or spiked hair.

Despite its drug-related content, Saving Grace is a wonderfully funny comedy revisiting the popular British theme of drastic measures taken in times of financial desperation (see The Full Monty and Waking Ned Devine for other examples). Besides the main plot revolving around Grace and Matthew's pot factory, there are several subplots, such as the hilarious sidebar involving some of Grace's very proper lady friends who stumble upon the stuff, mistaking it for tea, the more serious thread about Nicky and Matthew and their approaching familyhood, and Grace's chance meeting with her dead husband's extramarital lover. All the performances are truly full of heart and warmth, shining the ever-so-subtle light of reality into some hilariously silly situations. Blethyn is a gem in a multi-faceted role, and Ferguson, Edmond, and Clunes put forth engaging performances as well. Using the beautiful scenery of the British Isles as a backdrop, first-time director Cole presents a thoroughly enjoyable debut. My only criticism is that the plants look patently artificial, like plastic or flocked paper. But maybe that was just Cole's way of avoiding criminal investigation. Authenticity is fine, but even a good director doesn't want to spend 10 years in the pokey for the sake of art.

Although some particulary conservative viewers may disapprove of its seemingly permissive attitude toward the use of marijuana, Saving Grace is definitely worth a look at a time when there's very little else in theatres worth looking at. ****½

Copyright 2000 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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