It was startling to find out just how old of a story The Secret Garden is. written in 1911 by Frances Hodgson Burnett, the story has gone through several adaptions to the big screen with this version being the one to bring it back into the spotlight for a new generation. Especially in recent years, we’ve seen films with many adaptations blow audiences away with up to date storytelling, just look at A Star is Born. However, for reasons that will become apparent, The Secret Garden never felt like it was reaching out to this new audience and it holds back on something that is imaginative.
First of all, this story is timeless so the framework for something engaging is already and that strong story isn’t lost here. The film is told entirely from the perspective of its main character Mary (Dixie Egerickx) who has experienced the loss of her parents in British India, and she is moved to her uncle Archibald (Colin Firth) who is also struggling with his own loss. The recurrence of everything coming back to coping with loss is something that the film handles in a very mature way that is quite impressive. It’s the one part about the film that doesn’t treat children like, well children. It makes sure that the emotional toll within the characters always comes back to haunt them and is the huge weight that always drags them down in their moments of liberation, the film also look at these two characters, Mary and Archibald as the examples of dealing with loss the right and wrong way. In this aspect, I respect the film hugely as loss at a young age is much harder to accept than usual.
One aspect of Uncle Archibald’s dealing of loss regards his son Colin (Edan Hayhurst). Archibald has some form of Munchausen’s syndrome when It comes to his son Colin whom he has locked in his room and he has convinced him he’s sick to the point where Colin believes he cannot walk. Colin’s friendship with Mary and later on Dickon (Amir Wilson) works pretty well, some would say they’re the cheap knock offs of Harry, Ron and Hermione (doesn’t exactly help that David Heyman is the producer) but there respectable in their own ways, despite issues.
Those issues do come in the unfortunate case of consistency. Our leading girl Mary for example on the one hand is this girl who you feel sympathy for, but on the other hand, we learn she comes from a pretty wealthy family and the typical snobbery kicks in from time to time and she’s often rude. this wouldn’t matter too much if we saw her that way when she is introduced, but she becomes completely different people form one scene to the next and it destroys how the audiences sees her, I would have much preferred they had gone down the privileged route for the bulk of the film then have her change into something more likable.
Much like any disappointing film, a sin The Secret Garden is guilty of is misuse. For instance, Mary is shown to have a doll she talks to and tells stories to, but when she arrives in England, she throws it into the sea proclaiming she’s not a child anymore. Now that stuck with me because I was really hoping for that doll to come back in some way or form, recycling it for a different purpose perhaps, but no, that really is the last we see of it. This is one of those moments that’s needs to payoff in some way to reflect on how much she has grown.
In my head, I was thinking about The Chronicles of Narnia whilst watching The Secret Garden, another example of a classic novel that held back, however there is a key difference between Narnia and this film. In Narnia, the world itself is enough to satisfy our spectacle craving, the snow-covered lands where the most ordinary things are used imaginatively is testament to C.S Lewis. However, the titular location, that is supposedly filled with magic, is just like any magnificent nature trail you’d find in the real world. How do the filmmakers expect something to reach this pinnacle of imagination when something is too close to reality? Also, the functionality of the garden is questionable. Someway into the film, we see giant leaves wilt when Colin becomes defensive and upset, but there are plenty of times when Mary has negative emotions in the garden and nothing changes then. One of the big themes in the book is rejuvenation, when Mary, Colin and Dickon work and care for the garden it thrives, in the film nothing like this exists.
For a decent flick when there’s nothing else to watch, that’s when you’d sit the family down and watch The Secret Garden, but for all other times, it is another film to skip on. It a bit depressing how cinema keeps getting fluctuating successes of classic novel adaptations, surely there have been enough released to show how it should be done. Despite a few genuinely good moments, this film is massively under-cooked in terms of sparking a child’s imagination and I believe more work on its focal characters is needed. If there is one secret that needs to be found, it is the formula to faithful adaptations.
Final Result: 4/10 – Below Average
Have you seen The Secret Garden? What did you think? Please let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.
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