The Secret Garden is lavishly adapted for the fourth time on the big screen. Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic children’s novel gets a twenty-first century visual effects makeover from the steady hand of Harry Potter and Paddington producer, David Heyman. The film ably captures the magic and innocence of the book. It stumbles somewhat in the final act, but is rescued by a luminous performance from young Dixie Egerickx.
The year is 1947. India is in a state of upheaval with the creation of Pakistan. A British girl in a dirty dress, Mary Lennox (Dixie Egerickx), eats scraps of food from a dinner table. At night she hides under her sheets, telling stories to herself with puppets. The following day Mary is found by a soldier. Her parents did not survive cholera at the local hospital. An obstinate Mary is sent back to England to live with her wealthy uncle.
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Mary is met at the train station by Mrs. Medlock (Julie Walters). She is taken to the massive and foreboding Misselthwaite Manor. Mrs. Medlock warns the haughty girl to never speak to Lord Craven (Colin Firth), or even worse, stare at his deformity. That night, Mary hears mysterious sobbing echoing down the dark hallways.
Mary walks the fog filled moors, dreaming of her home in India. A newly found furry companion leads her to a vine covered wall. Mary discovers a lush garden hidden away from the manor. She shares her secret with Dickon (Amir Wilson), the maid’s little brother. Mary continues to hear wailing at night. She ventures out of her room to find the source. Mary is stunned to meet her sickly cousin Colin (Edan Hayhurst), the bedridden son of Lord Craven.
The Secret Garden is a welcome escape from our dire pandemic times. Mary’s adventure is filled with fantasy and wonder. The settings change with her imagination. Flowers bloom, grass grows, and birds surround her as she walks through the garden. She’s magically transported to India when locked in her musty room. Mary also sees her mother and aunt as she reads their letters. The special effects add a dreamlike quality to the narrative. They are well done and instrumental to the film’s atmosphere.
Dixie Egerickx is a revelation as Mary Lennox. She carries the film with a dominant, forthright performance. The adult characters are poorly defined in this version. This is especially evident in the third act. Colin Firth has scant screen time as Lord Craven. His gruff personality is explained, but too understated. Edgerickx successfully bridges the gap between his character and the children. It’s a pivotal reconciliation at the heart of the story. Dixie Edgerickx has a bright future as a lead actress.
The Secret Garden continues to be enchanting for a new generation. It is a breath of fresh air in a summer with few quality choices for children. I’d bet parents are tired of CGI sing-a-longs with autotuned celebrity vocals. The Secret Garden is a production of StudioCanal and Heyday films. It will be available August 7th on demand from STX Films.
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Film critic, raconteur, praying for dolphins to grow thumbs and do better.