Frances Hodgson Burnett’s young adult novel THE SECRET GARDEN is world famous. In it she tells the story of a little girl who, after the sudden death of her parents, goes to live with her cold-hearted uncle, but finds a mysterious garden on his property in which she rediscovers her joy in life. We reveal in our review how the fifth film adaptation turned out.
OT: The Secret Garden (UK/USA/FR/CHN 2020)
The plot summary
After the sudden death of her parents, 10-year-old British girl Mary Lennox (Dixie Egerickx), who lives in India, is sent to her uncle Archibald’s (Colin Firth) estate deep in the Yorkshire Moors. Neither the uncle nor the housekeeper (Julie Walters) are interested in the girl. The secrets in the large house with the locked rooms quickly arouse Mary’s curiosity. She learns about a secret garden that no one has entered for ten years and sets out to find it. But what she finds is much more than just any garden! Together with her ailing cousin Colin (Edan Hayhurst) and her new friend Dickon (Amir Wilson), she discovers a colorful and almost magical world that will not only change her own life from the ground up…
The fifth feature film adaptation of the British classic children’s and young adult novel “The Secret Garden” is advertised with the words “From the creators of ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Paddington'”. These are seals of quality per se; The two “Paddington” films are among the most charming family adventures of recent years and the success of the “Harry Potter” saga speaks for itself. The trailer also confirms this collaboration and promises a playful, dreamy, equally adventurous film experience with fantasy inserts from director Marc Munden (“Utopia”) However, it is only redeemed to a very limited extent. Basically, the moving image preview anticipates all the dynamic garden scenes – which means that there aren’t that many. Instead, Munden prefers to tell the story of a stuck-up orphan girl in dark rooms and deals a lot with death, grief and loss. So basically it’s a bit like the famous fantasy drama “Seven Minutes After Midnight” by JA Bayona, only not nearly as balanced and emotional, because somehow there has to be room for the magical garden. Which he doesn’t do. Unfortunately.
Mary (Dixie Egerickx) discovers a secret garden behind high stone walls.
Certainly: When Munden and his screenwriter Jack Thorne (“Wonder”) If you want to use the novel as a model (even if you drastically change some crucial passages such as the entire ending), you must not skimp on the darker parts. There are a lot of these in the book, because they form the narrative basis of the story; even if it looks completely different in the trailer. In the case of this film adaptation, it is primarily the overall tone that leads to a half-baked viewing experience. The dark and very quiet scenes in which the children deal with the topic of death are in the majority here, while the garden sequences that offset this dreariness are not sufficiently showcased; Simply because they only make up a tiny fraction. This mainly affects the bumpy pace, as in some places there is often too much time and in others far too little time to explain certain connections. In the book the whole thing is much more balanced. In addition, if you are not completely familiar with the original, you can lose track due to the convoluted narrative style, which is peppered with numerous flashbacks. Some details are not even explained. These can be little things. For example, why a green flame suddenly appears in front of Mary’s eyes during a big fire. Or they are of a much larger nature, for example because Marc Munden is unable to convey a feeling for the dimensions and characteristics of the garden because he hardly knows what to do with it.
“Director Marc Munden” prefers to tell the fate of a stuck-up orphan girl in dark rooms and deals a lot with death, grief and loss.”
Now one could argue that “The Secret Garden” is a very symbolic story anyway, which is less about a collection of flowers and plants and more about the psychological state of its main characters, which is for the three children in this very garden reflects. From this point of view, this film adaptation works much better. But it hardly works as the family film advertised here – that was no different with “Seven Minutes After Midnight”, which was already used for comparison, but it was not even advertised as a children’s film. The way in which heavy thematic artillery is taken up on the shoulders of children works well and is even reminiscent of “Pan’s Labyrinth”. But he was also more decisive in his statement and didn’t suddenly come up with sequences of cheerful adventure pranks in the middle of his deeply sad story. Ultimately, the problem with this interpretation of “The Secret Garden” is not that the two narrative focuses are so different, but rather that the creators cannot connect them harmoniously. And the novel shows you perfectly that this works.
Archibald Craven (Colin Firth) looks back melancholically on the past.
From a craftsmanship perspective, “The Secret Garden” is completely convincing. Cinematographer Lol Crowley (“Vox Lux”) is required here on two pages. On the one hand, there are the sun-drenched, lavish shots of the garden. When Mary and her friends walk among the half-withered flowers and huge leaves until the blossoms open and colorful landscapes emerge, it brings back memories of “Alice in Wonderland”. The fantasy elements that are used here and there – branches that support Mary as she climbs up the wall or roses that always turn towards the three main characters – are of decent quality. Only a robin that looks in every now and then clearly looks like a computer creation; after all, it isn’t seen too often or for too long. On the other hand, Crowley finds appealing imagery for the ominous interior of the old Craven building, which could just as easily have come from a horror film. Also the score (Dario Marianelli, “The Darkest Hour”) with its lush strings emphasizes the intended opulence with which “The Secret Garden” scores points in its audiovisual presentation. This really could have been another timeless adaptation of a magical young adult novel. But for this to happen, the makers would have had to agree on what they actually wanted to talk about here.
“This really could have been another timeless adaptation of a magical young adult novel. But for that to happen, the makers would have had to agree on what they actually wanted to talk about here.”
While the interaction between the young actors is nourished by strong dialogues, the newcomers unfortunately cannot always convey them credibly. The main actress, Dixie Egerickx, in particular often falls into disrepair (“The Little Stranger”) into a monotonous sing-song and unfortunately can’t make Mary, who is initially so arrogant but later becomes much more approachable, seem really likeable. She simply tries too hard to be caustic in the early stages – and the script doesn’t do enough to reveal her warm core. And also from Colin Firth (“A Single Man”) Unfortunately you hardly get to see anything.
Conclusion: “The Secret Garden” actually has all the ingredients for an emotionally touching family film adventure that packs heavy topics in a child-friendly way. But Marc Munden doesn’t know what to do with the ingredients. The end result tastes bland.
“The Secret Garden” can be seen in USA cinemas from October 15th.