Based on The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1911), the 2020 adaption follows little Mary Lennox, who has recently been orphaned. Upon being sent from India to her uncle’s estate, Misselthwaite, we follow her adjustment to a new way of life in England. Used to having plenty of servants and liberty, Mary struggles with the dictatorial housekeeper, Mrs Medlock, and her bossy chambermaid Martha. As Mary adjusts and begins to explore her new home, she discovers several secrets at Misselthwaite, including her cousin, Colin, and a secret garden.
Whether you are a long term fan of The Secret Garden book, a nostalgic re-collector of the 1993 movie or a new initiate, the 2020 version of the film brings the story to life in a new way. If you are a fan of the book or the 1993 film, be aware that some creative license has been taken in this adaptation, including a change in era.
The young Mary (Dixie Egerickx) is obnoxiously difficult to like at first. The book by Frances Hodgson Burnett describes Mary “…as tyrannical and selfish a little pig as ever lived…” (I love this description!), but we gradually discover more about her in this film, seeing her instead as an imaginative girl who is much more likeable. It takes a long time for Mary to encounter the other characters in the story, including Dickon (played by Amir Wilson) and Colin, meaning a large portion of this movie is spent solely with Mary, giving Dixie Egerickx a significant burden to carry. Given this considerable screen time, I can understand the changes to make her character more approachable and likeable. Colin Firth (playing her uncle Archibald Craven) has barely any screen time and portrays a somewhat one-dimensional character without real depth despite having a backstory. Mary’s hidden cousin Colin is a crotchety invalid who is played well by Edan Hayhurst. It would have been nice to see further character development to Colin throughout the film, though. His character seems to remain the same before suddenly transforming towards the end.
The plot of this movie feels drawn out and slow, as the characters simply enjoy the garden once it is discovered. Despite a fairly dramatic conclusion, the third act feels rushed and as though some of the transformations are sudden (particularly for Archibald Craven). This compares to a relatively ‘shallow’ second act where not a lot happens except for Mary’s explorations and ramblings. In saying this, the beautiful sets and gardens can occupy you during these acts. There are also some flashbacks to try and add more to Mary’s upbringing and character.
The real strength of this movie is the beauty of its sets. Misselthwaite is a beautiful manor with magical imagery on its lavishly painted and appointed rooms. The garden itself is beautiful and reacts magically to Mary’s moods, growing, blooming and wilting with her emotions. For those who grew up with the book or the previous film, the garden is divergently different in this adaption. Massive in proportions with all kinds of vegetation, it seems more a national park than a walled garden. It is hard to imagine walls big enough to encompass the garden in this film, something I struggled with.
Overall, this was an enjoyable movie with generally satisfying performances. It has beautiful visuals that compensate for characters that could have been developed a touch more. Enjoy the magic of nature and imagination while watching. The Secret Garden (2020) is Now Available on Blu-ray & DVD!