A great story is timeless and as resonant in the present as it was at the time it was written. Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1911 children’s novel The Secret Garden is one of these. A timeless classic with themes that resonate today as well as they did in 1911.
There have been quite a few adaptations of this story over the years, with four film versions being made before this one and at least that many television serials and specials, most of which in the last 30 years. Adapting a classic, it seems, still requires that something new is offered the viewer. What then, after so many visits to this garden, does this new version have to offer? Well, it’s really, really pretty. Unfortunately, not much else.
To recap the story for those who don’t know, young Mary Lennox (Dixie Egerickx) is born in British India to parents who never quite take to her. When they die in an epidemic, she is sent home to live with her uncle, Lord Archibald Craven (Colin Firth), on his estate in Yorkshire. It is a bleak place, located directly on the moors, and Lord Craven is cold to her, his staff, and his young son Colin (Edan Hayhurst). While playing outside one day, she discovers a walled garden, full to the brim with life and colour and whimsy. She shares with two friends she makes, a scrappy dog and the younger brother of one of the maids, Dickon (Amir Wilson). Through her time in the garden, she changes from being a dour, angry, thankless child into a wonder-filled dreamer full of life, and she proceeds to change everyone around her, too.
There’s nothing particularly wrong with this movie. All the players are good, and Dixie Egerickx anchors the story solidly as Mary. She captures the wonder of the garden well, and that’s no small feat when so much of the garden around her is CGI. (Colin Firth is reliable, but he’s in the film so little that people looking for him will be disappointed).
That’s the real selling point of this movie though: the garden is absolutely astounding. There is certainly an element that won’t be able to buy into how the garden latches onto and reacts to the children’s emotional states, but you will be rewarded if you can let go and enjoy it. Once again, this is a movie for children, and the magic of the garden is essential to this version of the story. The heightened reality of the garden also serves as a nice –if on the nose– a contrast to the gloom of the estate, and what each of them represents to the story: one a later a place of grief and despair for those unable to keep living with loss, the former a place literally full of life and the reasons to keep living it.
I wish there were more to it than that, but maybe that’s an unfair ask of a story meant for children. As it is, if you have any children, then this is an easy recommendation, especially for young girls. The visuals alone should be enough to keep you invested, and the story will be great for them.
The Secret Garden is streaming as part of the Victoria Film Festival for residents of British Columbia through February 14th