The Secret Garden

  • 29 Aug - 04 Sep, 2020
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Reviews

This new version of Frances Hodgson Burnett's enduring 1911 children's literature classic, The Secret Garden, comes from David Heyman's Heyday banner. Directed by Marc Munden, whose background is primarily in British television, its storytelling could be more fluid. But the key themes come through strongly and the first-rate visual design and indestructible charm of the story keep it captivating. If composer Dario Marianelli's rich orchestral score seems lathered on a bit thickly, well, at least it's pretty.

Relocating the action to 1947, as unrest grips India on the eve of its Partition from Pakistan, Thorne dashes through the sorrows that mark the early life of 10-year-old Mary (Dixie Egerickx). The death of her wealthy parents and her subsequent abandonment by the servants at their opulent compound unfolds in a dream-like haze which continues through her voyage back to England. Sent to stay with her widowed uncle Archibald Craven (Colin Firth) at his lonely estate on the Yorkshire Moors, Misselthwaite Manor, she's accompanied on the train by his stern housekeeper, Mrs Medlock (Julie Walters).

The chilly instructions of Mrs Medlock to the girl to keep to her assigned rooms and not go exploring contribute to a setup that almost feels like a ghost story, an inkling fueled by strange noises in the night.

Ignoring instructions, Mary goes snooping around the house and finds her way to a lush, green secret garden and discovers that the source of the moans and sobs during the night is her cousin Colin (Edan Hayhurst). The sickly boy is confined to his bed, with a nearby wheelchair indicating he's unable to walk. Colin is every bit as spoiled and bossy as Mary, but they nonetheless form a clandestine friendship that leads to her taking him out into the garden, with Dickon's help. Later, they discover the garden's restorative force.

The degree to which any of the plot embellishments add to the time-tested appeal of Hodgson Burnett's story no doubt will engender debate. But to the generation encountering it for the first time, its pleasures should be unencumbered. While the emphasis on beguiling visuals slightly overshadows the performances, the cast is uniformly solid, and Secret Garden completists will appreciate the connection of Firth playing the father of the character he played in the 1987 TV movie.

– Compilation