Francis Ford Coppola serves as executive producer of this adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic novel, and the next recommendation from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book.
Young Mary Lennox (Kate Maberly), born and raised in India is orphaned when her parents are killed in an earthquake. She is sent to live in England with her uncle, Lord Archibald Craven (John Lynch).
She is a distant, quiet child, with wells of anger (hiding heartache and longing to be loved, caused by the neglect of her parents), unresponsive in the eyes of those around her, and seems unwilling or unable to shed a tear. Her family and caregivers are equally distant, even the housekeeper, Mrs. Medlock (Maggie Smith), can’t seem to find a way in. She’s never done anything for herself, and her perceived aloofness serves to keep her distant as well.
Left to her own devices as Misselthwaite Estate, she begins to discover a new world, as she delves into the secrets of the estate and those who live there.
It’s easy to see both the decaying, neglected rooms of the Estate and Mary’s own behavior as a reflection of the aristocratic nature of the British Empire, faltering, even as it clings to the perception of class structure.
She gives grief to Martha (Laura Crossley) before the two cross the bridge of class to become friends along with Martha’s younger brother Dickon (Andrew Knott). Through the secrets, and friendships she learns to smile and be happy again.
She learns the truth of the Secret Garden, kept locked away from prying eyes since the death of her aunt as well as the haunting cries that fill the halls of the estate. The revelation of her cousin Colin (Heydon Prowse) isn’t much of a surprise but it does add a layer to Mary’s character.
She and the garden grow together, as she and Dickon work to bring the it back to life, as well as showing her ailing cousin Colin how wonderful the world is, something she too never knew.
With a plethora of animals surrounding the children in the garden, and beautiful if moody, English countryside the film is a lovely looking period piece, and Maberly proves herself a competent young actor in the film.
The film is charming, magical, and plays delightfully. There is a more adult theme running under it, the dealing with death, and embracing life because of it. This theme is touched on and affects every one of the characters in the film.
It’s pleasantly enjoyable, and while the BBC version is preferable, this version feels like a solid adaptation.