"Saving Grace" is a funny British farce about a grass-roots effort to save a widow. 

Joint Venture

"Saving Grace" offers us Yanks what we love best in British films: an isolated locale, quirky characters, charming accents, heartfelt performances and a mix of comedy and drama. Much like the immensely funny "The Full Monty," which dealt with males stripping to make ends meet, "Saving Grace" features an equally politically incorrect solution to hard financial times: growing marijuana.

While it's not easy crafting a comedy that requires audiences to root for a supplier of illicit drugs, this British farce manages this sticky wicket with laughs to spare.

Oscar-winning actress Brenda ("Secrets & Lies") Blethyn stars as the recently widowed Grace Trevethan, a middle-aged woman whose green thumb is the envy of many in the small coastal town where she lives. When we first meet Grace, she's cutting one of her cultivars, readying herself for her husband's funeral and wake. Little do we — or Grace, for that matter — know that things are only going to get worse for the grieving widow. First, there's a mysterious woman at the graveside. Second, she's inherited a 300,000-pound debt from the dearly departed. Facing eviction from the family home, Grace finds her potential salvation in the herbs her gardener Matthew (Craig Ferguson, "The Drew Carey Show") is growing. It seems he's got a small stash growing on the grounds of the vicarage, but his plants are ailing. In desperation, he enlists Grace's horticultural know-how to save his meager crop. Under Grace's care, the plants not only survive, they thrive. They multiply. They bud.

That's when Grace's desperation overtakes her logic. Quicker than you can say Cheech & Chong, Grace has ditched her orchids and turned her greenhouse into a hemp-filled nursery. Of course, mum's not quite the word and before you know it, much of the town is abuzz with rumors about what's going on. Sympathy for Grace's plight is such that everyone from vicar (Leslie Phillips) to constable (Ken Campbell) turns a blind eye to Grace's increasingly conspicuous activities. Most notably, they ignore how her greenhouse spectacularly lights up the night sky just after dusk each evening. The one sane voice in the crowd is Matthew's fiancée Nicky (Valerie Edmond), who's worried that this illegal scheme means her beau and his boss are headed for jail.

But hiding the truth from the prying eyes of townsfolk and the local constable is the least of this odd couple's worries. They need to find a dealer for their impressive first crop of about 20 kilos. Wanting to keep Matthew out of further trouble, Grace undertakes this task personally. Undaunted by not knowing where to start, or the fact that she's terribly out-of-date and out-of-fashion, Grace heads to London in search of a dealer. It's an added bonus that the man in question turns out to be a suave but dangerous gentleman (Tcheky Karyo, the Frenchman in "The Patriot") who appreciates a finely aged female.

Blethyn's delightful performance puts over the wilder twists in the script (written by Ferguson, by the way). She's an attractive mix of unflagging determination and appealing naivete. As her cohort, Ferguson fills Matthew with an infectious enthusiasm that's hard not to embrace. The two make Grace and Matthew so likable it's easy to ignore the illegal aspect of their joint venture.

Funny and touching — not to mention beautifully photographed to boot — "Saving Grace" may not be a laugh riot by current American movie standards. But when it comes to charm and sweet-natured humor, it's a genuine high.


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