This Gar­den adap­ta­tion isn’t great

The Timaru Herald - - Weekend Entertainm­ent -

The Se­cret Gar­den (PG, 100 mins) Di­rected by Marc Mun­den Re­viewed by Graeme Tuck­ett★★

Frances Hodg­son Bur­nett’s 1911 novel The Se­cret Gar­den, orig­i­nally pub­lished in New York in se­rial form, has been adapted for the big screen many times.

Most re­cently, and well re­mem­bered, in 1993 by the as­ton­ish­ing Pol­ish direc­tor Ag­nieszka Hol­land, whose ver­sion stuck fairly close to the page, but con­jured up some beau­ti­fully de­signed cin­e­matog­ra­phy, turn­ing the qual­i­ties of light and shade into vir­tual char­ac­ters in them­selves.

English direc­tor Marc Mun­den, best known for the TV se­ries Utopia, takes a slightly more lit­eral ap­proach to the prob­lem of vi­su­al­is­ing Bur­nett’s world, throw­ing a lot of com­put­er­gen­er­ated im­agery at the screen to bring the fan­tas­ti­cal gar­den and its at­ten­dant house to life.

The story of or­phaned Mary, sent back to Eng­land to live with her reclu­sive, hunch­backed un­cle and his bedrid­den son, dis­cov­er­ing a walled gar­den within the es­tate that seems to have heal­ing prop­er­ties, has been won­der­fully re­cep­tive to any in­ter­pre­ta­tion and re-imag­in­ing that gen­er­a­tions of adap­tors and re-writ­ers have cared to chuck at it.

Mun­den, work­ing from a script by Jack Thorne (Won­der), sets his Se­cret Gar­den in 1947, re­ferred to in the pro­logue cred­its as ‘‘the time of the In­dia/Pak­istan par­ti­tion’’.

That’s fine for an adult au­di­ence who might have been taught a lit­tle history at school, and may even see a few of the par­al­lels Thorne and Mun­den in­dulge in, be­tween the be­gin­ning of the endgame of the Bri­tish em­pire and this colonis­ers’ fa­ble of lost in­no­cents find­ing so­lace and sal­va­tion in an un­spoiled, hid­den par­adise.

But, for an au­di­ence of chil­dren, which is surely who The Se­cret Gar­den is in­tended for, it struck me as an­other layer of ob­fus­ca­tion draped over a plot-line al­ready strug­gling to re­main vis­i­ble.

Mun­den’s film changes a lot from the book. As well as the set­ting, he also elim­i­nates en­tire char­ac­ters, turns what were once dreams into full-blown su­per­nat­u­ral events and makes the gar­den into an oth­erly, not-of-thisEarth place.

And yet, frus­trat­ingly, all this tin­ker­ing adds pre­cisely noth­ing to the al­ready near-per­fect story.

In the leads, Dixie Eg­er­ickx (Pa­trick Mel­rose) is great as the ini­tially dis­like­able Mary – though the early ob­nox­ious­ness of the char­ac­ter is toned down a lot here – and the Bri­tish film mixed dou­bles all-star team of Colin Firth and Julie Wal­ters don’t re­ally have a lot to do, ex­cept lend their name to the mar­ket­ing cam­paign.

Both are ab­so­lutely OK in un­der­writ­ten roles, but se­ri­ously, a cou­ple of less thun­der­ously fa­mil­iar faces would have been just fine.

The Se­cret Gar­den is as beau­ti­ful to look at as ever, but it sim­ply doesn’t get across the screen like it knows where it wants to be and what it wants to say. It’s not a bad film, but to play it next to the 1993 adap­ta­tion would show it up cru­elly.

The Se­cret Gar­den is as beau­ti­ful to look at as ever, but it sim­ply doesn’t get across the screen.

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