The Secret Garden

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

The Secret Garden
dir Marc Munden
scr Jack Thorne
prd David Heyman, Rosie Alison
with Dixie Egerickx, Colin Firth, Julie Walters, Edan Hayhurst, Amir Wilson, Isis Davis, Maeve Dermody, Jemma Powell, Rupert Young, Anne Lacey, Richard Hansell, Sonia Goswami
release US 22.Sep.20,
UK 23.Oct.20
20/UK STX 1h39

firth walters davis

Is it streaming?

egericks and wilson
Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic 1911 novel is re-adapted to a post-war period and given a range of artful touches by director Marc Munden and screenwriter Jack Thorne. Gorgeously photographed by Lol Crawley, the film centres on a collection of wounded people taking a difficult route to healing. And while there may be a bit too much wonder and fantasy in here, the filmmakers don't forget the darker stuff.
During India's partition in 1947, 10-year-old Mary (Egerickx) is orphaned and sent to live with her stern, reclusive Uncle Archibald (Firth) on his vast estate in Yorkshire. No-nonsense housekeeper Mrs Medlock (Walters) outlines the rules, while maid Martha (Davis)is friendlier but refuses to indulge Mary's spoiled behaviour. While exploring, she befriends a scruffy dog and inadvertently discovers that she has a sickly cousin, Colin (Hayhurst), she's never heard about. She also meets Martha's adventurous 12-year-old brother Dickon (Wilson), and tumbles across an enormous walled botanical garden that Archibald sealed closed after his wife died.
Mary is a wonderfully fiery character who rejects being called either a little girl or a lady. She also dismisses Colin's claim that he's dying because of this cursed house, plotting with Dickon to bring him to the garden. The film is loaded with colourful fantasy sequences, digitally augmented as these three kids bring the garden back to life, and of course vice versa. Beneath the magical elements, there's earthier drama going on, as each person in the story is struggling with loss.

Egerickx, Hayhurst and Wilson make the central trio smart and alert, beautifully depicting how they bring each other to life. Each of them creates a distinct character who resonates strongly as they embark on their various adventures and try to get through to these hard-headed grown-ups. Firth is great as a harsh grump blinded by his own grief, likeable because we know he has a radiant smile in there somewhere. And Walters and Davis are terrific as under-developed maternal figures for these motherless children.

This story bristles with timeless themes about overcoming anger and grief, the resourcefulness of children and the fact that parents can learn a lot from kids. This is a sumptuous adaptation that may sometimes feel dreamy and over-produced, softening a book that's genuinely bleak. But it's faithful to the message without ever preaching, letting it roll gently through a story about people who are easy to identify with. And it feels extraordinarily timely at a time when children are trapped indoors by a pandemic.

cert pg themes, violence 22.Oct.20

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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall