August 5, 2020 The Secret Garden (Movie Review)
Few fantastical children’s tales have been told and retold quite as often as Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic. Required reading for all youngsters, a timeless story that unleashes a magical world within our own backyards, The Secret Garden is set to bloom again on Friday, August 7, 2020 when STX Entertainment will deliver the film to On Demand everywhere.
From the producers of the Harry Potter series and Paddington (2015), The Secret Garden stars Colin Firth, Julie Walters, Dixie Egerickx, and more in this beloved family classic. A slight alteration of the time period finds our story beginning in 1947, where young Mary Lennox (Egerickx: Patrick Melrose mini-series, The Little Stranger 2018) finds herself on the doorstep of Misselthwaite Estate on the foggy moors in England. With the deaths of her parents from cholera in India, the precocious youngster is given to the care of her estranged uncle, Lord Archibald Craven (Firth: The King’s Speech 2010, Kingsman: The Secret Service 2014), a hard-hearted widower.
Much to the dismay of the head of the household, Mrs. Medlock (Walters: Billy Elliot 2000, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 2011), as well as a kindly maid named Martha (Isis Davis: Electric Dreams series, Lie Low 2019), the girl refuses to stay locked inside her beautifully-painted prison and begins to explore all that her new home has to offer. With their failure to cage her wandering spirit, she soon discovers two of the estate’s greatest hidden treasures: her cousin Colin (Edan Hayhurst: A Plague Tale: Innocence video game 2019, There She Goes series) and a walled garden.
As Miss Mary continues to be quite contrary, threats of being shipped off to boarding school only seem to electrify her wild heart. It doesn’t take long for her youthful panache to spread and begin to infect her newfound group of friends, which includes her ailing, wheelchair-bound cousin, Martha’s little brother Dickon (Amir Wilson: The Kid Who Would Be King 2019, His Dark Materials series), a sweet terrier, tiny robin redbreast, and the butterflies that dwell inside the secret garden.
Based on the timeless, best-selling novel, The Secret Garden was directed by Marc Munden (Utopia series, National Treasure mini-series), and the story was adapted for the screen by Jack Thorne (Wonder 2017, His Dark Materials series). While Thorne does alter some of the tale—changing the time period, and doing away with the friendly gardener Ben Weatherstaff—the core of the classic remains fully intact. Whittled to fit a 99 minute run-time, the themes of loss, family, and childhood imagination continue to drive this PG-rated blend of Adventure, Fantasy, and Drama.
Munden’s The Secret Garden is big on bold aesthetics, from the vivid textures of the garden itself to the bleak but majestic architecture of the purportedly cursed Misselthwaite. Anchored by a gorgeous Classical score that is led by conductor Dario Marianelli, and featuring clothing that finds a gentle influence in the film’s initial Indian beginning, there is a careful attention to detail throughout. And this does not stop with the hairier cast members, which it seems especially important to note. The animal actors and their trainers provide a splendid addition to the production, for what would the joyful garden be without its resident terrier (Fozzie the dog, who was trained by Cindy Sharville and Rosie Ison), as well as that precious little ferret (trained by Jess McGugan and Aaron Newman) that rides around in Dickon’s pocket. It can’t be easy to get a dog to pretend to be wounded throughout multiple scenes, but Fozzie pulls it off with ease.
Despite its cute critters, The Secret Garden is clearly a film that is led by its child actors—Egerickx, Hayhurst, and Wilson. For 14-year-old Egerickx, the pressure is on to deliver in the role of Mary Lennox. Initially a spoiled orphan who finds solace in her passionate storytelling, Mary quite literally holds the key to this entire fantasy. Despite her young age, Egerickx is able to walk the fine line between the emotionally-scarred side of her character, and the girl with the big imagination who breathes life back into an entire estate. At times joyfully obnoxious, at other moments sullen and withdrawn, Egerickx’s Mary is a brilliant portrayal of a character that refuses to be put in a corner.
Supporting her in the role, both Hayhurst and Wilson also bring powerful performances to the film. While Wilson’s Dickon is largely the introverted boy who prefers to be among the animals—the Doctor Doolittle of the group, if you will—the actor is still able to bring a quiet intelligence to the soft-spoken role. Hayhurst’s Colin is obviously a much more complicated soul: a young man whose spine is seemingly bowed beneath the weight of his father’s depression. A rude boy who perfectly complements his spoiled cousin, the pair find camaraderie in their shared woes. In the role, Hayhurst displays this with ease and, when his character eventually begins to come out of his shell, shows an exuberance for life that helps the film to hit even harder in the feels.
However, The Secret Garden is not without its flaws. Although for a film that offers up plants that react to the childrens’ emotions, urges its moviegoers to take the risk and go out and live life, and comments so tenderly on how loss affects each of us, there is so much more inside these walls. It doesn’t hurt that this magic is brought to life in splendiferous textures that feel like they flit off the screen on butterfly wings, making a youngster’s first experience inside the garden extra special. With their work, Munden and co. take this to heart and deliver a joyful remake of a classic tale that is guaranteed to be a spot of joy in your summer. For this, Cryptic Rock gives The Secret Garden 4.5 of 5 stars.