Director: Marc Munden
Cast: Dixie Egerickx, Julie Walters, Colin Firth, Maeve Dermody, Amir Wilson, Edan Hayhurst
Runtime: 1 hr 39 mins
Released By: Shaw Organisation
Opening Day: 10 September 2020
Synopsis: From the producer of Harry Potter and Paddington comes THE SECRET GARDEN, the story of Mary Lennox (Dixie Egerickx, Genius, The Little Stranger and A Royal Winter), a prickly and unloved 10-year-old girl, born in India to wealthy British parents. When they suddenly die, she is sent back to England to live with her uncle, Archibald Craven (Academy Award® and BAFTA-winner Colin Firth – A Single Man, The King’s Speech, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Bridget Jones’s Baby) on his remote country estate deep in the Yorkshire moors. There, she begins to uncover many family secrets, particularly after meeting her sickly cousin Colin (Edan Hayhurst – Genius, There She Goes), who has been shut away in a wing of the house. Together, these two damaged, slightly misfit children heal each other through their discovery of a wondrous secret garden, lost in the grounds of Misselthwaite Manor. A magical place of adventure that will change their lives forever.
Literature is immortal. They never get old and they enjoy the movie adaptation from time to time. Take for example, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. It has been adapted to the big screen for three times and this latest produced by Harry Potter’s David Heyman marks the fourth with a slight tweak to the original material.
The secret garden is apparently not the star of this movie. Mary Lennox (Dixie Egerickx) is. After her parents died of cholera in India, the pampered and now orphaned Mary is sent back to England to stay with her uncle, Lord Archibald Craven (Colin Firth) in his dilapidated manor. Mary is given strict instruction by the caretaker, Mrs Medlock (Julie Walters) not to roam around and ask questions. But the wilful Mary has plans of her own. She decides to explore the nearby forest and with the guidance of a stray dog and a bird, she found a magical forest or should we say, a hidden secret garden!
With the company of Dickon (Amir Wilson), the younger brother of the housemaid, Mary decides to drag along Colin (Edan Hayhurst), the crippled, bedridden son of Lord Craven. Believing the magical garden will heal Colin’s condition, Mary insists on Colin to explore the place including where Colin’s mom supposedly passed away at.
The classic novel from Frances Hodgson Burnett is given a new life by screenwriter Jack Thorne, the writer who famously wrote the stage play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and movies liked The Aeronauts and Radioactive. Thorne no doubt is a fine writer but his latest work is more of a joyless cold outing rather than a meaningful touching drama about loss and grief.
Much of the movie relies on unexplained phenomenon and apparition. The constant appearing of Mary’s late mother and her sister do nothing for character development. Perhaps it works better in a Guillermo del Toro’s horror feature but other than that, it just seems silly and pointless right here. Ironically, Mary’s mom is shown as cold, distant towards her daughter when she was alive yet she seems “warmer” when dead. It was later explained that she missed her dead sister. How convenient is that.
Lord Archibald Craven is a long-suffering widower who lost his beloved wife and now being the all protective father wants his son to be confined in his room. In reality, his son Colin is perfectly in the pink of health. Colin Firth’s character is unfortunately devoid of any backstories and simply comes across as distraught, despair and in need of a shower. Same goes to Julie Walters or better known as Mrs Weasley. Her no-nonsense controlling housekeeper role just come across as bland and irrelevant to the entire plot given the calibre of the cast assembled here.
Newcomer Dixie Egerickx delivers a gutsy performance as the young Mary. While irritating and unlikeable in the beginning, Mary is turned into quite a heroine, miraculously changing the mindset of the entire Craven household before the credits roll. Thanks to Thorne’s haphazard storytelling, it’s difficult to link up the meaning of the secret garden to Mary’s subsequent actions and changes. The narratives are mostly undercooked and most of the proceedings are a drag to go through.
There a good mix of CGI thrown in and the visuals are pleasing at the very least. The pacing feels incredibly slow given it’s only 95 minutes minus 5 minutes of credit. The Secret Garden is scattered and all over the place. The fantasy and slight dark elements never gels well together. Even the finale which involves a huge fire feels forced. All in all, it’s a piece of uninvolving filmmaking that fails to win long-time fans and probably keep potential readers away from the original novel.
(The meaningful themes of the book are lost in this latest screen adaptation of The Secret Garden)
Review by Linus Tee