Do we need a new version of this familiar story? Not really.
This latest version of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s enduring classic of children’s literature sees newcomer Dixie Egerickx play Mary Lennox, the brattish orphan who “smiles with no teeth”. When cholera kills both her parents, she is sent to live with her reclusive uncle Archibald (Colin Firth) and his stern governess Mrs. Medlock (Julie Walters) at Misselthwaite Manor on the Yorkshire Moors. Her lonely new life opens up when she discovers a magical garden that will unlock her imagination and sense of compassion, as well as bring family secrets to the fore.
Do we need a new version of this familiar story, which is now on its fifth screen iteration? The short answer is: not really. Any new adaptation needs to stand apart from its predecessors and while director Marc Munden does tease some darker edges to the story, the tantalising shades of Gothic horror never amount to much in a film that can’t quite settle on a distinct tone. Screenwriter Jack Thorne does expand and update the traditional framework by relocating the Victorian setting to 1947, and the new addition of magical realism which sees Mary’s past come to life before her very eyes does work. However, the film’s molasses slow pacing ends up making this year’s The Secret Garden a handsome but flat reimagining that never blossoms into something truly magical. If you’re looking for more inspired and enchanting literary adaptations this year, you’re much better off seeking out Little Women and The Personal History Of David Copperfield.
The Secret Garden / Directed by Marc Munden (UK 2020), with Dixie Egerickx, Julie Walters, Colin Firth. Starts October 15.