The Weekend Australian - Review

Retelling of Se­cret Gar­den for­get­table


- David Strat­ton Entertainment · Movies · Secret Garden · Manchester · United States of America · MGM · Judy Garland · Garland · Netherlands · India · Colin Firth · Frances Hodgson Burnett · Little Lord Fauntleroy · Little Lord Fauntleroy · The Secret Garden · Agnieszka Holland · Julie Walters · Amir Wilson

Lim­ited na­tional re­lease


Frances Hodg­son Bur­nett (1849-1924), who was born in Manch­ester but em­i­grated to Amer­ica when she was 16, wrote books for chil­dren, among them Lit­tle Lord Fauntleroy (1886), A Lit­tle Princess (1905) and The Se­cret Gar­den (1911), all of which have been filmed at least once.

In 1949, MGM made a ver­sion of The Se­cret Gar­den as a ve­hi­cle for the stu­dio’s pop­u­lar child star Mar­garet O’Brien (Judy Gar­land’s lit­tle sis­ter in Meet Me in St Louis); the film was in black and white un­til the fi­nal scene in which the epony­mous gar­den sud­denly ap­pears in glo­ri­ous tech­ni­color. In 1993, Pol­ish di­rec­tor Ag­nieszka Hol­land filmed the story again and there have also been at least three tele­vi­sion adap­ta­tions. This lat­est adap­ta­tion, made by Bri­tish tele­vi­sion di­rec­tor Marc Mun­den, comes loaded with the sort of trick pho­tog­ra­phy and com­puter gen­er­ated ef­fects that pre­vi­ous ver­sions never dreamt were pos­si­ble.

Jack Thorne’s screen­play takes lib­er­ties with the orig­i­nal. The story now takes place not in the Vic­to­rian era but some 40 years later, in 1947, us­ing the vi­o­lence that fol­lowed the par­ti­tion of In­dia as an ex­cuse to re­lo­cate or­phaned Mary Len­nox (Dixie Eg­er­ickx) from a life of priv­i­lege on the sub­con­ti­nent to the chilly and omi­nous cor­ri­dors of Mis­selth­waite Manor on the York­shire Moors where her reclu­sive un­cle, Lord Craven (Colin Firth) re­sides, mourn­ing the death of his wife. The house is vast and gloomy, the walls elab­o­rately dec­o­rated with muted mu­rals and glass cases con­tain­ing stuffed an­i­mals.

Mary, too spoilt to ac­cept her re­duced life­style with­out com­plain­ing bit­terly, is not happy. Craven wants noth­ing to do with her, his house­keeper, Mrs Med­lock (Julie Wal­ters) is un­pleas­ant and only the ser­vant, Martha Sowerby (Isis Davis), is friendly. She’s kept awake at night by strange noises and she has no one to play with ex­cept a friendly dog (in the book it’s a robin and in the 1949 film a raven) that leads her to the buried key that un­locks the gate of the se­cret gar­den that is sep­a­rated from the rest of the es­tate by a high wall. Mary’s cousin, Colin (Edan Hay­hurst), a dis­abled boy con­fined to his bed, proves to be the source of nightly moans. Mary also be­friends Dickon (Amir Wil­son), the free-spir­ited brother of Martha.

The birds and an­i­mals here are an­i­ma­tronic cre­ations, plants in the gar­den change colour be­fore our eyes and the ar­ti­fi­cial­ity is em­pha­sised by the cast­ing of the Sowerby sib­lings. In the book these char­ac­ters were salt of the earth York­shire coun­try folk and they’re not con­vinc­ing when played, as they are here, by black ac­tors. That’s no re­flec­tion on the ac­tors, merely a com­ment on the in­creas­ing habit of sac­ri­fic­ing re­al­ity and au­then­tic­ity in the name of colour-neu­tral cast­ing.

Mary was al­ways a spoilt and rather ir­ri­tat­ing char­ac­ter, and Eg­er­ickx can’t help but make her quite un­pleas­ant for much of the film. Firth and Wal­ters have lit­tle to do, and there’s a fleet­ing ap­pear­ance by Aus­tralian ac­tor Maeve Der­mody, seen in brief flash­backs as Mary’s mother.

With a hec­tic but un­con­vinc­ing cli­max ac­com­pa­nied by Dario Marien­alli’s bom­bas­tic mu­sic score, this ver­sion of The Se­cret Gar­den is com­pe­tent enough but com­pares un­favourably to its cin­e­matic fore­bears.

 ??  ?? Dixie Eg­er­ickx, top, and Amir Wil­son in The Se­cret Gar­den; left, Eg­er­ickx with Hec­tor
Dixie Eg­er­ickx, top, and Amir Wil­son in The Se­cret Gar­den; left, Eg­er­ickx with Hec­tor

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