“The Secret Garden” (2020)
Running time: 100 minutes
Written by: Jack Thorne based on The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Directed by: Marc Munden
Featuring: Dixie Egerickx, Colin Firth, Isis Davis, Amir Wilson and Julie Walters
Mary: “The spell was broken. My uncle learned to laugh, and I learned to cry. The secret garden is always open now. Open, and awake, and alive. If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.”
Released this week on DVD and Blu-ray is the fourth adaptation of the Frances Hodgson Burnett novel, “The Secret Garden” (2020), which sees the same story told with 21st Century special effects as well as a bit of a convoluted plot that attempts to bring something new to the classic but ends up feeling less than the sum of its parts which is a shame as any chance to bring classics into the modern age is something that should be applauded. Maybe it proves that having a director with vision and integrity is what is needed with stories that have become timeless and why Agnieszka Holland’s version still seems so vital and popular.
One of the issues with modern moviemaking as well as adapting a fantasy novel from an earlier age is the temptation to bring in all the bells and whistles that are available, in this case CGI effects that undercut what was appealing about either the source novel or other film and television versions of the same. This is an issue at play here as well the altering of the plot to being in some kind of melodrama to broaden the story which here does not really work. In fact it could be said that this is a supersize version of not only the novel but the 1993 film versions which had no real special effects with the garden actually being a garden not some kind of Peter Jackson enhanced seperate world that feels wholly artificial as well as out of place. The feeling I had was that the CGI takes pride of place with the humans and their story having to attempt to outpace these effects to draw the audience in which means it is difficult to identify with these characters at all, so the movie feels well out of place.
“The Secret Garden” is based around Mary, a lonely little girl who has to return to the mother country from India when her parents die, and she is forced to stay with her scary widower Uncle Archibald in his remote Yorkshire mansion. But Mary discovers that there is on his estate a marvellous secret walled garden, which Uncle Archibald has locked up ever since his wife died there. Mary finds her way in and convinces her uncle’s neurotic disabled son Colin to come with her into this garden along with her new friend, the maidservant’s 12-year-old brother, Dickon. Mary uses the secret garden’s miraculous Edenic powers to restore the health of Colin, who had quite wrongly been encouraged to think of himself as bedridden – and the garden promises to be a restorative force, curing the family’s wounds and salving painful memories.
Adapted by Jack Thorne and directed by Marc Munden who both have some excellent credits to their name should have brought not only some originality but also something this movie is lacking, that is some grit and drama with attention paid to characters instead of overblown themes and pandering to a potential audience. Where I think the movie missies is the fact that this is a movie produced by David Heyman, who was the person that helped bring the “Harry Potter” franchise from the page to being screen making billions in the process. It seems with “The Secret Garden” he would like to do something similar eschewing actual storytelling as well as real characters for spectacle and box office. Unfortunatly there is not the fan base for this book so the detrimental elements cannot be covered up with all the well wishing in the world.
In terms of performances this is a movie that has some real moments for its cast especially with newcomer Dixie Egerickx who dos her best with the mantle of being the main character which is no easy feat, she is ably supported by the wonderful Julie Walters who plays a part many will recognise as the grumpy matriarchal type and of course Colin Firth who is always great to watch but feels slightly wasted and miscast here. Rounding out the cast are Isis Davis and Amir Wilson who are again both newcomers but have enough experience to try and get to grips with their limited characters and who are still great to watch.
“The Secret Garden” is not ostensibly a bad movie at all and could be seen as quite a good family movie and in the times we are living it could be seen as an quasi antidote in at least a metaphorical way but there is just too much going in and it is also style over substance which again many might actually enjoy, however it is the fact that there have been other attempts that really grate, especially as the previous version was so very well done with almost all the contraption being on the people in the plot. This movie comes down to what you want, a visual stunning, at time almost beautiful movie that bursts of the screen or a movie with broad characters that feel false, if you can forgive one for the other then you might like this, for me I go back to the Holland version which all these years later still feels timeless.