Gardens can be beautiful magical places where we can get lost in the beauty of the trees and flowers, Secret Gardens can be even more magical and in this fifth iteration of “THE SECRET GARDEN”, director Marc Munden and writer Jack Thorne, choose to alter the text in a few notable ways by changing the time period, removing some characters, and adding some dramatic elements. Ultimately, however, The Secret Garden remains the story people are familiar with, and despite some pacing issues, there’s still magic to be found in these gardens.
As the film begins, we are told it’s ‘the eve of Partition’, which was the 1947 bitter division of British India into two separate states: India and Pakistan. This timing is, of course, quite a bit later than the original setting, but the effect is the same. Mary Lennox (Dixie Egerickx), is a spoiled and somewhat bratty, young girl living in India with her British parents in the years following World War II. When cholera kills both her parents, Mary is sent to live with her reclusive, hunchbacked uncle Archibald Craven (Colin Firth). Accompanied to massive Misselthwaite Manor by the housekeeper, Mrs. Medlock (Julie Walters), Mary quickly learns in all the wrong ways, that Uncle Archibald is a grieving widow (his wife was Mary’s mother’s sister) who is not to be disturbed, and his hunchback is not to be stared at. Mary soon learns that her spoiled brat mannerisms will not be tolerated and at first she finds herself frustrated by this new lonely life at Misselthwaite Manor, but as she explores the estate, her world begins to open up.
As fans of the novel will know, Mary’s adventuring eventually leads her to a hidden, magical garden that reignites her imagination and helps uncover some old family secrets. But it’s the plays on Mary’s imagination that are extraordinary here and the wonderful CGI effects allow us to see what she has envisioned. Whether it’s the wallpaper coming to life, or her mother and aunt walking the halls or swinging in the garden and branches twisting and fitting to her every move. We see the past come alive while running through a garden filled with ever-changing plants and creatures and it’s a lovely, refreshing way to present a garden that has seen its fair share of adaptations. As Mary befriends Martha the maid (Isis Davis), and Dickon (Amir Wilson) while wandering the estate grounds, it’s here where the fantastical and supernatural meet reality, as Mary and her new friend go on adventures and find the magical gardens with powers all it’s own.
Mary encounters others on her emotional journey, while hiding it all from Mrs. Medlock, she finds her sickly cousin Colin (Edan Hayhurst) locked up in one of the mansion rooms thinking he is much like his uncle. She continues to visit him despite his objections and soon she and Dickon are sneaking him into the gardens where he finds the true story of himself as well.
The Secret Garden undoubtedly belongs to Egerickx as she undoubtedly carries the film from start to finish. At the beginning you almost want to dislike her even though she is a child, and by then end, she has melted your heart and stolen the film from all her co-stars, yes even Firth and Walters, though they do give wonderful supporting performances. Where The Secret Garden falters is in its pacing as though even though it’s an almost quick 100 minutes, the plot doesn’t really start falling into place until we are hitting the last 20 minutes of the film and it could have benefited being a bit longer. But even bearing that and the story changes, this film is just so visually beautiful you are bound to get lost yourself in a magical secret garden of your own.
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Review screening link ~ Courtesy of STX Entertainment
“THE SECRET GARDEN” arrives in theaters/VOD this week