Saving Grace

UK 1999

Reviewed by Edward Lawrenson


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Port Liac, Cornwall, the present. Amateur gardener Grace Trevethan discovers her deceased husband John ran up debts without her knowledge and had a mistress, China. She makes her gardener Matthew redundant, but this isn't enough to stop Quentin, a London-based businessman, from threatening to repossess her cottage. Grace suggests a business proposition to Matthew, a casual pot smoker: they will grow marijuana in her greenhouse and sell the harvest to drug dealers. Matthew agrees. Promising Matthew's pregnant partner Nicky she will keep Matthew out of trouble, Grace goes to London to sell the drugs. Her attempts to sell a sample on the street land her in jail. China bails her out and introduces Grace to drug-dealer Vince, who reluctantly takes her to French crime-boss Jacques, a potential buyer. Aware of a mutual attraction, Grace strikes a bargain with Jacques.

Jacques' thuggish associate follows Grace to Port Liac. As Grace harvests the marijuana, Quentin arrives to stake his claim on the house. Mistaking Jacques' henchman for a poacher, local policeman Alfred follows him to Grace's house and discovers her stockpile of weed. He advises her to destroy it before more police arrive. Grace burns the weed. Some time later, Grace is a successful novelist, married to Jacques.


The best thing about Saving Grace is the trouble the film-makers went to in order to ensure the authenticity of Grace's marijuana plants. The producers actually secured permission to get hold of all this gear from the Ministry of Agriculture. While a film as casually pro-soft drugs as this isn't likely to earn a commendation from Home Secretary Jack Straw, it says something for Saving Grace's innocuous charm that the producers gained Crown dispensation in the first place. It's hard, for instance, to imagine Donald Cammell making a similar approach when he shot Performance (1970).

In fact, the comparison with Performance isn't too ludicrous. Saving Grace's final sequence - where the police, Jacques' henchmen and a couple of old dears from the Womens' Institute fall under the influence of Grace's dope, disrobe and run naked through her garden - does suggest a suburban spin on Performance's assault on established conventions. Except, like everything else in this film, this rather strained scene is less a moment of pure carnival, deliriously upturning codes of normality, than an innocent bit of fun. It's certainly no more shocking than when real-life WI members went nude and were photographed last year to shake up their organisation's rather stuffy reputation.

This benignly tolerant attitude envelops all of Saving Grace: not only does her local community blithely accept Grace's career in drugs, she ultimately escapes any charges, gets to keep her house and marries Jacques - a rosy outcome which would be next to heresy in the morally upright Ealingesque world director Nigel Cole consciously evokes. Even a brush with the criminal underworld has its endearingly ordinary, if not solidly respectable side. "Can I go now," small-time drugs-dealer Vince says, trying to wheedle his way out of a potentially dangerous situation, "I've got to pick my daughter up from flute practice."

All of which makes for a film with a certain baggy, unfocused amiability. But in trying too hard to convince us what good eggs his characters are, Cole creates a shapeless, dramatically unengaging movie. Grace and China's descent into the criminal underworld, for instance, is about as a tense as a stroll through Harvey Nichols, and the prolonged mistaken-identity finale is like a Ray Cooney farce with the timing out of whack. Cole would have done well to remember the best Ealing films were never this nice: think of the caustic bite of Whisky Galore! or the black humour of Charles Crichton's innumerable crime capers.

This said, Brenda Blethyn's performance as Grace - who blossoms into the Delia Smith of hemp cultivation - stands comparison with a line of such indomitable Ealing women as Margaret Rutherford and Katie Johnson. Dressed in Ascot attire circa 1977, her attempts to sell a sample of dope to the bewildered residents of London's Notting Hill (Performance's stomping ground) almost make up for the film's flabbier moments.


Nigel Cole
Mark Crowdy
Craig Ferguson
Mark Crowdy
Mark Crowdy
Director of Photography
John de Borman
Alan Strachan
Production Designer
Eve Stewart
Mark Russell
©Rich Pickings and British Sky Broadcasting
Production Companies
Twentieth Century Fox and Sky Pictures present in association with Portman Entertainment and Wave Pictures a Homerun production
Executive Producers
Cat Villiers
Xavier Marchand
Craig Ferguson
Torsten Leschly
Line Producer
Steve Clark-Hall
Production Supervisors
Leontine Ruette
2nd Unit:
Mairi Bett
Brian Donovan
Production Co-ordinator
Suzie Shearer
Location Managers
Johnny Bamford
Matt Steinmann
Mark Harris
Katja Leschly
Katura Jensen
Rupert Hall
Assistant Directors
Mark Griffiths
Russell Channon
Peter Evans
2nd Unit:
Russell Channon
Lance Roehrig
Tom Rye
Script Supervisor
Kim Armitage
Gail Stevens
Maureen Duff
Script Consultant
Katherine Butler
2nd Unit Director of Photography
Sue Gibson
Camera/Steadicam Operator
Alistair Rae
Digital Visual Effects
The Film Factory
Art Director
Tom Read
Costume Designer
Annie Symons
Wardrobe Supervisor
Marco Scotti
Hair/Make-up Designer
RoseAnn Samuel
Make-up Artist
Gill Rees
2nd Unit Make-up Designer
Gill Rees
2nd Unit Make-up Artistes
Claire Pritchard
Shelley Manser-Cossey
Main Title Design
Simon Giles
Additional Orchestrations
Matt Dunkley
Executive Music Producers
Ray Williams
Greg Rogers
Gerry O'Riordan
"Take a Picture" by Filter; "Make Me Smile" by Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel; "Spirit in the Sky" by Norman Greenbaum; "Sunshine at Last" by Koot; "Human (Tin Tin Out Mix)" by Pretenders; "Witchcraft" by Robert Palmer; "Accidental Angel (Saving Grace)" by Sherena Dugani; "Wise Up" by A.F.T.; "Might As Well Go Home" by Plenty
Sound Mixers
John Midgley
2nd Unit:
Stephen Phillips
Re-recording Mixer
Petter Fladeby
Sound Editor
Alan Paley
Dialogue Editor
Simon Price
Loop Group:
Lyps Inc
Andrew Thompson
Pauline Griffiths
Ruth Sullivan
John Bateman
Brenda Blethyn
Grace Trevethan
Craig Ferguson
Martin Clunes
Doctor Bamford
Tchéky Karyo
Jamie Foreman
China McFarlane
Bill Bailey
Valerie Edmond
Tristan Sturrock
Harvey Sloggit
Clive Merrison
Leslie Phillips
Diana Quick
Phyllida Law
Linda Kerr Scott
Denise Coffey
Mrs Hopkins
Paul Brooke
Ken Campbell
Sergeant Alfred
John Fortune
Philip Wright
Darren Southworth
Magnus Lindgren
Dean Lennox Kelly
Johnny Bamford
removal boss
Bill Hallet
Alison Dillon
Bill Weston
John Trevethan
Jonathan Kydd
Mark Crowdy
Jay Benedict
master of ceremonies
Ben Cole
man at checkout
20th Century Fox (UK)
8,327 feet
92 minutes 32 seconds
Dolby Digital
Colour by
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011