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The Secret Garden – Movie Review

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The Secret Garden – Movie Review

Rating: B- (Okay)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Elevation Pictures

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic novel The Secret Garden has been adapted a number of times for the screen, so it makes sense for director Marc Munden to give it a go and create a film version for a new generation. With its visual flourishes and talented child actors, The Secret Garden brings a decent amount of imagination to the table. It doesn’t shy away from talking about grief and the troubles that face the young leads and their adult guardians. Some parts do end up more entertaining than others as the portions in the garden prove enchanting as opposed to the more dour sequences in the manor.

While the book was set in the early 20th century, Munden and screenwriter Jack Thorne have moved the story to 1947. That does allow the film to be its own thing, although the change in time period doesn’t affect the narrative that much. The filmmakers are able to properly establish Mary’s situation as she finds herself sent to her uncle’s manor. The movie mostly hops between her time in the manor and walking around on the grounds in search of something to do. The film really starts to pick up when she stumbles upon the titular garden and forms a sweet bond with a friendly dog. Munden, production designer Grant Montgomery and the visual effects team smartly elect to depict the garden with plenty of colour and vibrancy.

Another important ingredient comes from Dario Marianelli’s score. Marianelli does a lovely job of giving the music the appropriate magical quality. The scenes in the garden have such an appealing look to them, they cause the sections in the manor to feel underwhelming by comparison. There isn’t too much character development and plot progression in those moments. They largely consist of Mary wandering the hallways and occasionally conversing with other characters. While pivotal to the story, these are mostly a patient wait until she makes her way back to the garden. To the film’s credit, though, it does try to make us understand the attitudes of the people living and working there.

While Julie Walters’s Mrs. Medlock and Colin Firth’s Archibald Craven are portrayed as strict, their actions do make sense as they cope with the grief of more than one tragic loss. The Secret Garden successfully shows the difficulties the children themselves have as they remember those loved ones no longer there to give them a hug. It’s in those scenes where the film’s pulse beats the loudest. Credit should also go to Dixie Egerickx, who has to carry the entire film as Mary and does so quite well. Her performance is able to overcome some of the flatter dialogue she is given to read.

The Secret Garden is a handsomely mounted production willing to explore themes that aren’t often prevalent in family films. It does take a while to find its footing, but where the movie really shines is the scenes in the garden. That’s when the direction pops and inspiration strikes. While the scenes in the manor are necessary for the plot, one almost wishes we could spend the entire time in the secret garden with its incredible colours and foliage. It’s possible some may gripe at the changes from the source material, but there’s little wrong with providing one’s own take. The Secret Garden won’t go down as a family classic and some sequences work better than others, but there is enough to appreciate in the execution.

Stefan Ellison