Written and directed by Joel Hershman

Starring Clive Owen, David Kelly, Helen Mirren

HMS Prison Edgefield can make even the liberal cringe. More than a penal institution, more than a method to punish or reform the serious criminal, it strikes fear into hearts by being• nice. No tall fence surrounds the quaint Cotswold cottages set on a beautifully manicured lawn, a solitary guard watches well behaved murderers and rapists playing soccer on the honor system, and an attractive young volunteer serves tea. It’s actually much nicer than most college campuses. Populating this Open Prison are the usual types — Fergus Wilkes (David Kelly) killed wives as a hobby, Jimmy (Paterson Owen) is innocent, Colin Briggs (Clive Owen) killed his brother in a drunken rage, all the usual stuff. Well-behaved prisoners all, not a one psychotic, much nicer looking than the real cons you see on Court TV, and learning skills in work release no one will ever pay them to use. But good old Wilkes has a taste for growing the odd flower, and somehow pounds that slight skill into Colin’s brain. Colin starts small with few violets, moves on to initiates a gardening program at Edgefield, and stumbles into a meeting with Georgina Woodhouse (Helen Mirren), maven of the Brit gardening elite. What started as a prison occupation turns into a serious showing at the Hampton Court Summer Garden Show, and instills a new sense of worth in the hearts of these hardened cons.

Amazingly, this penal fairy tale is partly true — a group of inmates did become involved in gardening and eventually won England’s top prize in show gardening. It’s a bit brushed up, with Colin falling for Woodhouse’s beautiful daughter Primrose (Natasha Little), and Georgina herself getting a bit sweet on one of the other cons, but it’s one of the nicest prison flicks your likely to see. The story is touching if a bit hard to swallow, but the cinematography shows that even the worst rapist has a good side when the lighting is right, and those English know a thing or two about compost. Yeah, Colin has a little trouble adjusting to the outside after 15 years, and committing a minor crime to get back in to compete at Hampton might be a stretch, but you learn the symbolic meaning of rose colors, and that might just help you avoid a stretch in the doghouse with some one you love.

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