A Magical Garden
Raised in India by parents who were to busy socializing to care for her, Mary Lennox (Kate Maberly - Deserter) returns to England after an earthquake leaves her an orphan where she is to live in the cold mansion of her Uncle, Lord Archibald Craven (John Lynch). But life in the mansion is no better for Mary whose Uncle is still grieving 10 years after his wife's death and so she is left to the care of the bossy Mrs. Medlock (Maggie Smith - Sister Act). It is little wonder that young Mary struggles to get on with others when she has spent her whole life feeling unloved. But when Mary discovers she has a sickly cousin, Colin (Heydon Prowse) who never leaves his room things start to change especially when she comes across the locked up secret garden of her late Aunt.
I have mentioned this before but I believe that movies which are adapted from classic children's literature work because of that nostalgic connection, that warmth of memory which comes flooding back when they see a cherished story brought to life even years after they read it. In a way it allows them to connect with how they felt all those years earlier as a child and the sense of wonderment and magic they got from diving in to a story especially when a director is as in love with the story as they are. As such I am convinced for those who immersed themselves in Frances Hodgson Burnett much loved classic "The Secret Garden" will absolutely adore Agnieszka Holland's movie as it is rich in detail and atmosphere as well as featuring impressive acting.
Now I haven't read "The Secret Garden" and as such don't have that connection which I have just been going on about but I can appreciate that this is something special. The detail which Holland has delivered is fantastic from watching Mary walk across a frosty lawn where a rabbit is playing by a thicket to the way the wind sweeps through what looks like a maze, rustling the autumnal leaves which have collected on the floor. There is something genuinely magical about this story and when a Robin shows Mary the way to the hidden door to the secret garden, the combination of unfussy but perfect cinematography with the rising soundtrack creates a sense of awe and wonderment which grabs you almost as much as when Mary explores the ruins which lie behind the locked gate. As I said it is this detail which helps create the atmosphere and which brings a cherished novel to life for those who remember reading it as a child.
The thing about "The Secret Garden" is that I do wonder whether this movie is for children or for those adults who read the story as children. This is such a visually rich and atmospheric movie that I am not sure that children will get all the subtleties which are clear to see when you are an adult. It is also quite slow going which again I wonder whether it will appeal to children who have not read the story. There are other minor things which lead me to think that "The Secret Garden" is for grown ups and not children.
Aside from that well with Maggie Smith in the cast you expect a certain level of acting and you get it but you also get more. Young Kate Maberly is astonishing and she manages to fill young Mary with light and shade as we experience the bitterness she has from being abandoned to the sense of life she has as she explores the secret garden and makes friends with other children. In fact I would say "The Secret Garden" is at its best when it focuses upon the younger characters be it Martha played by Laura Crossley or Dickon played by Andrew Knott.
What this all boils down to is that "The Secret Garden" is an entertaining movie and one which charmed the socks off of me even though I have never read the book. But I do wonder whether this was made for children or really for the adults, especially those who read "The Secret Garden" as children and who will appreciate the attention to detail lavished upon the production.