‘Swede Caroline’ Movie Review: A Delightful British Mockumentary

She grows marrows, not swedes. Marrows are a kind of zucchini, which in the UK is known by its French name, courgette, while a swede is called a rutabaga when it’s in the US. But her name is indeed Caroline, and we all know a good vegetable-based pun when we hear one. And it’s those little pleasures of life that are at the heart of Swede Caroline, a British mockumentary about protecting the environment, the disappointments of middle age, and really enormous vegetables. It’s not exactly a life-changing movie, but it achieves exactly what it wanted to do, and that’s worth quite a bit.

Caroline (a very good Jo Hartley) lives in Somerset, and things are not going great. Her only work is occasional cash-in-hand odd jobs for a pair of private investigators, Louise (rising star Aisling Bea) and Lawrence (Ray Fearon), though she at least has a car and a small house with a garden. In the garden she has a greenhouse where she grows her marrows, which are large enough to be entered into various contests around the county. These contests are a hotbed of intrigue, misbehavior, and general rivalry, and Caroline is one of the few female participants, which is why filmmaker Kirsty (Rebekah Murrell) selected her as the subject of her documentary. 

Swede Caroline still photo. Image courtesy of the filmmakers.

Caroline’s main friends are the curmudgeonly Paul (Richard Lumsden), who refuses to pay his license fee [the tax everyone with a television must pay, which funds the BBC], which means he must hide his television under a sleeping bag every time someone rings his doorbell, and the amiable Willy (Celyn Jones), who works in a supermarket and has a YouTube channel dedicated to reviewing canned foods. Both men are clearly sweet on Caroline, who is not romantically interested in either of them, to the point where she dresses like she’s in the middle of yardwork at all times. But even if they talk boring nonsense, most of the time, they’re good company. Until someone breaks into Caroline’s greenhouse and robs her marrows, that is. The combination of Caroline’s upset, Paul’s misguided anger and Willy’s misguided helpfulness as they attempt to work out who stole the marrows and why spirals into pure comic silliness, albeit with a righteous and topical twist.

The mockumentary style does what a lot of British comedy does extremely well, which is to enable characters to make fools of themselves while the actors play it completely straight. Directors Finn Bruce and Brook Driver (who also wrote the script) managed to do a great deal with an obviously small budget. But even as the problems escalate and things get increasingly ridiculous, there’s also something noble in the way in which Caroline, Paul, and Willy are committed to their quest. These giant vegetables are the main thing they’ve got. Growing them may be a silly, expensive, time-consuming hobby (like, for a random example, film criticism), but it’s theirs. And that means no one has the right to steal their hard work from right under their noses. So even as they make an absolute hash of their detective work or receive alarming threats from a strange Russian lady (Alice Lowe in a perfectly silly cameo), there’s something quite wonderful in their refusal to give up or give in. The entirely satisfying ending even involves more (pixelated) nudity than you’d expect.

Swede Caroline Still photo. Image courtesy of the filmmakers.
Swede Caroline still photo. Image courtesy of the filmmakers.

This movie could have been family-friendly were it not for the tremendous amount of swearing – another British weakness, or strength, depending on your own personal pottymouth – and it might have been more interesting if it was indeed suitable for all ages. At some point kids do need to learn how to cope with disappointment, and a low-stakes thriller full of knowing jokes for the adults might have been a very good way indeed to get that point across. Those of us already in middle age and/or whose life is not quite what they’d imagined might feel slightly bashed about the head by all the hijinks here. But these are minor quibbles about a generally delightful time. 

And yes, the song by Neil Diamond does feature, while the song over the closing credits is by The Wurzels, a folk band from Somerset that’s been releasing comic novelties about farm life since the 1960s.

Swede Caroline is now in theaters in the UK.

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