Synopsis: From the classic Frances Hodgon Burnett novel, a young girl discovers an abandoned garden on her uncle’s large Victorian country estate, as well as an invalid cousin she didn’t realize she had. With the help of a local boy, the girl sets out to restore the garden.
Stars: Kate Maberly, Maggie Smith, Heydon Prowse, John Lynch, Laura Crossley, Andrew Knott
Director: Agnieszka Holland
Running Length: 101 minutes
TMMM Score: (9/10)
Review: I’m always surprised that more people haven’t seen this excellent adaptation of the beloved children’s book. Perhaps it is Holland’s adult slant on the tale that really pushes it to the next level. Everything here is handled with a sure hand from a mature perspective so you never feel like you’re watching a “kid’s” movie…it just happens to be a story involving children.
This slightly Jane Eyre-eqse tale is one we’ve seen told in other film adaptations (the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie is also pretty good), stage versions and even a Broadway musical. Young Mary Lennox is spoiled, selfish, and has just lost her parents in India. Returning to England to live as a ward to her only relative she is becomes another inhabitant of Mistelthwaite Manor. Her adventures around the house lead her to the titular secret garden and suddenly a world/home that looked dark has a ray of light.
Maberly makes a good Mary with her pinched face and haughty attitude brought on by being treated as an afterthought by her equally entitled parents. As she learns to do things on her own and keep herself company we see her cold exterior melt and her youth return. Prowse and Knott are her two companions…and regardless of position they are truly her equals. Smith can do no wrong and leaves no eyebrow un-raised as an uptight housekeeper that knows things should change but feels it is out of her place to do so.
All told, this is a film that has only gotten better as the years go by. It’s absolutely a product of 90’s family-fare filmmaking but it is wonderful to see a movie free of animation or obtrusive special effects. The studio has wisely put the telling of this story in the hands of a capable crew and company.