Directed by: Marc Munden
Premise: Adapted from the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett. In the early twentieth century, an orphaned ten year old girl (Dixie Egerickx) is sent to live on her uncle’s rural estate. She befriends her sickly cousin (Edan Hayhurst) and discovers a hidden garden.
What Works: The Secret Garden is beautifully shot. The exterior scenes are especially impressive. Sequences taking place on the estate grounds use mist effectively and the filmmakers capture the beauty of nature with lush colors that pop off the screen. One of the central themes of The Secret Garden is the healing properties of getting outside and that’s conveyed in the vibrancy of the outdoor scenes and the way those images contrast with the drab grey interiors of the mansion. The film is exceptionally well edited with clever scene transitions and the action of the past and present bleed into each other. The Secret Garden has a strong central cast. Dixie Egerickx plays Mary, an orphan from an upper class family who has to adjust to her new life. Egerickx plays Mary as appropriately snobby to begin with but she’s also fun to watch; the actress makes Mary just obnoxious enough without losing our sympathies and Egerickx plays the role with energy and a sly sense of humor. Edan Hayhurst is cast as her wheelchair bound cousin Colin and Hayhurst is an effective pairing with Egerickx. Colin’s subplot is the most dramatic part of The Secret Garden and Hayhurst captures the grief and fright that grips his character. Rounding out the core cast is Amir Wilson as Dickon, the brother of one of the estate’s servants. Dickon is an underused character but Wilson makes him distinctive and the friendship between the three children is believable.
What Doesn’t: The Secret Garden is a story about grief and recovery but this version is emotionally flat. The actors do what they can and the performances are quite good but the storytelling doesn’t manage the characters very well. There is no tension to The Secret Garden and little sense of stakes or rising action. Mary is a snob when she arrives at the estate but she changes her attitude for no apparent reason. The duration of the film gives the central characters very little to do except hang around in the garden and moments that should be big emotional payoffs don’t land because they haven’t been properly set up. The film is beautiful but it feels empty.
DVD extras: Trailer and featurettes.
Bottom Line: The 2020 version of The Secret Garden showcases astonishing craftsmanship and some good performances but the movie is emotionally inert. This film misses the zest for life that’s at the heart of the source material.
Episode: #828 (November 22, 2020)