Watching the latest version of The Secret Garden it is easy to wonder ‘is this really necessary?’. Like Little Women from last year The Secret Garden is one of those oft-told stories that seems to come to the cinema every few years. This is probably because the book by Frances Hodgson Burnett is so commonly read in schools and is a favorite by many (including myself). Now we have the latest version by director Marc Munden, and while not as strong as the luminous 1993 retelling, it has enough magic to be a worthy journey back to the garden.
This version stars Dixie Egerickx as the young Mary Lennox and she does a good job bringing an independent spirit to the classic role. The narrative begins with Mary left alone in India when her parents die of cholera. This grounding in India reminded me of Alfonso Cuarón’s version of A Little Princess (which I adore). It’s not as magical nor as strong as that film but it definitely tries to have the same impact.
When she is sent to live in her Uncle Archibald’s estate Mary is essentially given free reign over the house and grounds without a governess or any other oversight. At first she is shocked by this as she is used to being dressed and groomed by servants, but she embraces the freedom and grows to become as attached to the outdoors as her puppy Jemima and friend Dickon (Amir Wilson).
She then, of course, discovers the titular secret garden and begins to process her grief for the first time. The garden is stunning and more overgrown and full of actual magic in comparison to other versions. The plants and flowers almost reminded me of the garden in Nausicaa the Valley of the Wind with the big oversized leaves and jungle-like quality to it.
This The Secret Garden is at its best when it is focusing on Mary and her imagination and growth as a character. Some of the other elements of the book are not as successful. There’s always a bit of an ableist element to the story of young Colin who if he just believes enough will be able to get out of his wheelchair and walk. I don’t know how you avoid that in this story but maybe make him just sick instead of physically handicapped? I’m not sure but surely there is a way to show Colin’s growth without him suddenly being able to walk again when he previously couldn’t?
I also wonder if they only had Colin Firth for a few days of shooting because he’s not in the movie very much. This makes his role as Archibald feel a little undercooked and unsatisfying. Julie Walters is also not in the movie very much as the housekeeper Mrs Medlock. I would love to have gotten more of her because she’s one of my favorite actors.
Other than that I enjoyed this new version of The Secret Garden. Some may fault its pacing but I found it to be typical of this type of period film. If they usually aren’t your thing than it won’t win you over but if you like them and like The Secret Garden story than you will probably enjoy this film. It also seems like the perfect film to watch in quarantine when we can’t explore the world as much as we’d like. At least we can live through the movies!
What about you? Are you a fan of The Secret Garden? What’s your favorite version?
7 out of 10