Directed by Richard Laxton
Written by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Carl Hunter
An allotment in Bootle, a group of asylum seekers are introduced to gardening
by a sympathetic social worker, as a means of healing their psychological
scars. There’s some sharp witty dialogue and shafts of humour as
the committee try to impose new rules as a way of thwarting the ‘invasion’.
When they try to get all the sheds painted red they have to deal with
irascible rebel Kenny.
The film does deal with the trauma that many asylum seekers suffer during
their journey, Kang, mourns the loss of his wife who died en route and
he has a phobia about the containers they were forced to travel in. Through
interacting and receiving advice from characters like Ali, a trained doctor,
the allotment growers begin to change their attitude.
However, having set the scene the second half of the film chugs along
like a 1950s Ealing comedy, or one of those amiable 1970s sit-coms. Unfortunately
the film is dealing more with the prejudices of the 1950s – ignorance
and fear of the unknown. There’s no real attempt to ask any awkward
questions and get the audience thinking.
Asylum seekers are usually isolated and marginalised, placed in fractured
and fragmented working class communities. The majority of asylum seekers
in Liverpool were placed in damp, condemned tower blocks in Everton and
were on the receiving end of almost nightly attacks from local youngsters
(with few prospects themselves) who wanted to protect ‘their patch’.
The realities of racism in Europe are the French banlieues where youngsters
of African descent face discrimination and police harassment, or East
Germany where skinheads routinely attack people with darker skins. The
film East Is East was a humorous take on race relations in the 1960s,
but where is the contemporary film that deals with the riots in Oldham
and Burnley or the 7/7 bombings?
On the other hand there is a danger that films can portray every asylum
seeker as a ‘deserving case’ (the mass majority are) but neglect
the way they are more likely to be exploited by people from within their
own community – people traffickers and gang masters (the worst example
of this the Morecambe Bay cockle pickers).
The main problem with the film is that there is no contrast; most of
the characters are in soft focus. I read a study on Charles Dickens, it
made the point that what really lifted Oliver Twist and put it on a different
level was the introduction of pure evil – Bill Sykes. The raid by
the Immigration Police and the menace of the mobile phone company are
external threats, not from the community. The gardeners with their mugs
of tea and zip-up cardigans are fairly harmless old buffers, it makes
for a comfy slippers kind of film. The only character with any depth is
Kenny, the rest we experience in a superficial way.
The premise behind the film is that with a bit of TLC and sympathy, racism
can be overcome and we can all work together. If only it was so easy.
In some communities, racism and prejudice are deep rooted, fuelled by
the press myths about asylum seekers being given free mobile phones and
driving lessons. In the furore about council houses for white families
the Dagenham MP John Cruddas said he knew of no single case where asylum
seekers had ‘jumped the queue’. In fact the main problem has
been the complete lack of council house building for the last ten years.
A much bleaker, darker film about a Russian asylum seeker in Sweden is
Lilya 4-ever; it doesn’t pull any punches, it isn’t afraid
to make the point that many lonely old men will pay young girls for abusive
Grow Your Own just doesn’t have a cutting edge. It needed a writer
like Jimmy McGovern to draw this out. I remember a scene from the scripting
sessions of the film Dockers about the Liverpool lockout in 1995; the
dockers had written a script that outlined the way they and their families
had changed through the course of the dispute. Jimmy McGovern insisted
that making one of the central characters a scab (played by Ricky Tomlinson)
allowed the film to question why someone, a real character, would betray
their work mates and their community.
Grow Your Own – a film that tried to press all the right buttons
but just lost the plot.
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