Cert – PG, Run-time – 1 hour 39 minutes, Director – Marc Munden
A young, orphaned girl (Dixie Egerickx) finds herself living on her uncle’s (Colin Firth) estate in the Yorkshire Moors, which holds a large, fantastical garden
Since its first publication in 1911 The Secret Garden has been regarded as one of the most British children’s tales. Brought once again the the screen by producer David Heyman, behind British classics such as the Harry Potter franchise and both Paddington films – Paddington exec producer Rosie Alison also has a hand in this big-screen iteration of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic novel. Both highly British, especially Paddington, with there elements of fantasy. As the film’s protagonist, Mary (Dixie Egerickx) finds herself exploring the grounds of her uncle’s (Colin Firth) estate in the gloomy fog of the Yorkshire Moors, she quickly discovers a fantastical garden beyond that of the regular overgrown patches visible from the house.
Mary finds herself back in Britain after being orphaned in late 1940’s India. Taken to her distant Uncle, Lord Archibald Craven’s expansive home – rarely seen, and often spoken through his strict and direct housekeeper Mrs. Medlock (Julie Walters). The corridors of the home are dark, dusty and lacking decoration. Sounds are dull with the occasional rattling echo. One of those sounds belonging to Mary’s ill bedbound cousin Colin (Edan Hayhurst). Initially there are conflictions between the two, especially regarding their different backgrounds; it isn’t always easy to get on with the rather spoilt Mary, especially when her first instinct is to command maid and houseworker Martha (Isis Davis) before questioning whether she really is her servant – the answer is definitely no.
The state of the manor vastly differs from that of the garden. A brightly lit, sunshine-filled realm with plants that seem to stretch up to the sky and out to far reaches. Scattered with the occasional gently flowing stream and blatantly CGI bird. It’s in this area that almost seems like an entirely different world that the children, including new friend Dickon (Amir Wilson), who acts as the introduction to the garden itself, easily find escape and safety within. It offers a form of healing for them, and protection from the confines of the manor and the rest of Lord Craven’s estate. It’s during such moments where the central figures are simply allowed to be free and play in a relatively worry-free environment, although the pressures and anxieties of the rest of the world gradually creep in. And it’s also in such moments that the film shows itself as one that appears to target the kids more than anyone else.
At 99 minutes the run-time of the film is relatively short. The film breezes through with a fairly simplistic and traditionally told story, something that echoed through screenwriter Jack Thorne’s screenplay for 2019’s The Aeronauts. This doesn’t make the film unwatchable for the adults, there’s enough there to make this a pleasant watch for the fairly short and mostly harmless time that it’s on for. There’s enough there to certainly work for the kids and bring them into the world that the trio of youths find themselves exploring and experiencing the wonders of, and it’ll likely capture their imagination and engagement. However, there are points where you almost feel some elements could be slightly expanded upon, particularly in the final 15 minutes where the pacing begins to speed up and elements appear to rush by so that the film can still get out with a double digit run-time. But, for what it does provide and do within the space of time that it’s on The Secret Garden is a perfectly fine piece of work. It might be more for the kids, but there’s enough within this fantastical realm, and even the one that it separates from, to engage the adults too and make the film worthwhile enough with its rather traditional ways.
Simplistic and traditional help give this edition of The Secret Garden to life, yet they can also sometimes act as its barriers, for adult viewers at least. Nonetheless this is still a rather fine adaptation that’s very likely to work with younger viewers, and should act as a decent watch for everyone else.