(The Vintage Tempest)
The Secret Garden looks more like a secluded glen in this latest adaptation of the novel of the same name. No knowledge of Frances Hodgson Burnett‘s work is needed because this movie stays faithful to the outline. To give this movie a cinematic edge, a Harry Potter treatment was needed and this detail should be of no surprise when David Heyman is one of the producers.
Sadly, because of the pandemic, it never got a proper theatrical run. It wouldn’t have broken any box office records, but when considering the effort spent to scale up the beauty this garden represents, the investment lost is just that and hopefully its life in home video can make back the money spent.
This modern update is enjoyable and marks Marc Munden‘s transition to directing feature length films. He’s handled television shows like Utopia. We see the main protagonist, Mary Lennox (Dixie Egerickx) change too. She goes from being a happy girl to brat to a mother. Life was easy at first when her parents were alive and they were living happily ever after in the British occupied India, but the revolt–the partition–is coming. Death took them away and left her alone when the revolution was in full swing. The servants ran and didn’t think to take her with them!
This introduction was quick like the book, and before we know it, she’s off to Yorkshire, England to be taken care of by her only surviving relative–Lord Archibald Craven (Colin Firth). Sadly, he’s very missing in much of the story and plays a very minimal role. The responsibility falls on his servants and she continues to act out until she meets kids near her own age, Dickon (Amir Wilson) and Colin (Edan Hayhurst), her cousin. This local boy proves to help change her around and the hidden world becomes a Garden of Eden for her. She changes for the better with a little help of her newfound friends.
The execution of the work is like Disney’s Doolittle in terms of narrative design and pacing. Either these characters do, or they do not; Not even Yoda’s teachings can help! Meditating on life and meaning isn’t for everyone and to accept one’s faults (and learn how to improve by yourself) are never easy. All of them are wounded, falling into depression more so than exhibiting physical ailments like Colin has. It hampers his life. Even the canine Mary befriends and helps tend to (his leg was hurt) foreshadow how everyone is able to heal.
This girl turns into a mini-version of the blessed Virgin Mary and the spiritual overtones in this tale aren’t too overdone. Burnett’s interest in Christianity is found in the way she described Colin’s recovery. To make it work in the film, the adaptation was very visual about it and showed him receiving the healing waters from the Secret Garden instead of saying we have the power of faith to heal all wounds. Even that trope is important, because it’s needed to show how Archibald can get over the loss of his beloved wife.
The world we make for ourselves can be happy and colourful, or sad and grey. Everyone in this film suffered somehow, and the finale is uplifting enough to put a smile on my face. As for how well this film stands out against other versions, it’s hard to say. Many adaptations of Burnett’s book exist, including a 32 episode anime (Himitsu no Hanazono) to which I have to find after seeing this work!
3½ Stars out of 5