Dixie Egerickx as Mary Lennox
Colin Firth as Archibald Craven
Julie Walters as Mrs. Medlock
Edan Hayhurst as Colin Craven
Amir Wilson as Dickon
Isis Davis as Martha
Maeve Dermody as Alice
Directed by Marc Munden; Written by Jack Thorne
The Secret Garden Review:
Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic novel The Secret Garden has been a favorite property for the film and TV industry to bring to life on screen for multiple generations since its 1911 publishing and while most have seen plenty of positive reception, none have really sought to separate themselves from the source material or offer unique variants from previous iterations and while Marc Munden’s isn’t necessarily groundbreaking, it proves to be a nice twist on the story.
Based on the classic novel of the same name written by Burnett, the story is set in England during a new time period in 1947 and follows Mary Lennox, an English girl raised in India who, after the death of her parents due to disease, goes to live with her uncle on an isolated moor. Initially distraught over the loss of her parents, change in lifestyle and strict caretakers, Mary discovers a magical garden on her uncle’s estate that brings a bright light to the dark house.
One of the nicest things about the latest adaptation of Burnett’s novel is that though it changes a number of plot points from its story, they all not only still remain in the spirit of the source work but also help to elevate some of its themes of loss, growth and growing up. The evolution of Mary and her connection to the titular location is told in a relatively compelling fashion thanks to a mind-melding blend of flashback and present-day dialogue that intersect with one another much like Mike Flanagan’s Oculus. Though it may prove to be a bit convoluted for some younger viewers, this story structure really feels like a much more imaginative way to tell the story than a straightforward adaptation and is further bolstered by Munden’s beautiful direction. With a combination of artful editing, exquisite color palettes and fairly good CGI, every shot of this film is certainly a work of art to behold.
As Mary runs around the depressing halls of the dilapidated mansion and the expansive lands surrounding it, Thorne’s script finds a way to somewhat stay true to the source material in seeing her be a spoiled and obstinate terror on the moor but it also provides two of the film’s major flaws: its pacing and frustrating deviations from the novel. One of the most important aspects of the novel was Mary’s friendship with her sickly cousin Colin and village boy Dickon and how they help each other evolve over the course of the story, but the film takes its sweet time even letting audiences and Mary know that these two exist in the world and when we do meet the former, he’s quite different from his literary origin.
A lot of Colin’s development feels too in line with Mary’s on screen in comparison to that of the novel which, though may work for the different take on the story on screen, feels a little too lackluster and formulaic for the coming-of-age genre. With both being portrayed as good-natured kids who only need a bright spot in their life to overcome their loneliness and grief rather than actually flawed beings who learn to change through spending time with one another and in the garden, it becomes a little too familiar of a story and loses some of the deeper emotional work that was present in the novel.
But, with all of that being said, the emotional development seen on screen still does prove to be remarkably effective, mostly thanks to the incredible performance from young Dixie Egerickx in the lead role as well as the strong performances from Colin Firth, Amir Wilson and Edan Hayhurst. Egerickx brings this different take on Mary to life wonderfully, finding a way to brilliantly transition between the emotionally hardened and bitter nature of her character to the imaginative and hopeful side of her.
Though its pacing frequently proves to be frustratingly tepid, especially given its 100-minute runtime, and some of its deviations from the source material prove to be odd and formulaic drivel, The Secret Garden still hones in on much of the spirit of Burnett’s iconic novel and proves to be a moving and charming adaptation with a few nice twists up its sleeves.