Title: The Secret Garden
Genre: Drama, Family, Fantasy
Director: Agnieszka Holland
Frances Hodgson Burnett
Music: Zbigniew Preisner
Cinematography: Roger Deakins
What an ethereal child film it is! An adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s titular novel, and craftily constructed by Polish female director Agnieszka Holland with the sublime aids of DP Roger Deakins’ transcendent cinematography (including some wondrous time-lapse shots), an equally unearthly score by Zbigniew Presisner, and a spiritually mollifying end-credits song WINTER LIGHT by Linda Ronstadt, THE SECRET GARDEN is a nonesuch in the realm of family movies.
The said garden is located at Misselthwaite Manor in Yorkshire, England, where Mary Lennox (Maberly), a ten-year-old spoiled girl who recently lost her inattentive parents in India, now lives. Taken in by his uncle Lord Archibald Craven (Lynch) who has sorrowfully indulged in the loss of his wife since ten years ago an accident took her life (which actually happened in the garden, that’s why Lord Craven ordered to close it forever), Mary is under rigid superintendency of Ms. Medlock (Smith), the stern housekeeper doesn’t clearly doesn’t care too much about her more than a thorn in the flesh.
Mary is unhappy in her new environment, until she finds her aunt’s garden, thanks to the guidance of a robin to show her the way (there must be magic involved!), at beginning, the garden seems dead, just like the solemn air in the hundred-room manor, with sporadic scream sounds from a young child which everyone dares not to mention. Holland has achieved a remarkable job to set the mood right, it is irresistibly captivating, even a tad spooky, which is reminiscent of the haunting ambience in Jack Clayton’s horror master work THE INNOCENTS (1961). Soon, Mary discovers the secret behind the scream is from Lord Craven’s 10-year-old son Colin (Prowse), who has been bed-ridden since he his premature birth (due to his mother’s accident) and is treated as a fragile invalid ever since. Mary befriends with her new cousin, and she is destined to revive the garden and the family from the lifelessness which has been cloaking the entire place for too long.
Kate Maberly is surprisingly laudable in her film debut to portray a young girl’s leap from a sullen sport to an intrepid trailblazer in brining hope and wonder galore, harmoniously couples with the flourish nature’s flow and fauna, what a natural chameleon she is! Her interactions with Heydon Prowse and Andrew Knott, who plays the farmer boy Dickon and can talk to animals, are much convincingly conveyed with an added layer of delicacy with both romance and jealous lurking around. Prowse also instigates a strong self-confidence rarely seen in a child actor in the confrontational scenes with Maggie Smith, their authority-juggling game may be a slip in the script, but certainly fun to behold in a movie as good-natured as this. Among the adults, Smith is breathtaking whenever she is on screen although she is playing her very stereotyped maiden calling card again, always something tender can be found under the harsh front. Whereas John Lynch solidly confers the peculiar 10-years lachrymal distress with adequate likelihood, which in a lesser hand, could be the weakest link in the fable.
Made only two decades ago, now if we scrutinise the offerings pander to Generation Z, it is axiomatic that this film is a bona-fide gem beyond any comparison, particularly for its astonishing beauty created by its production team without the interruption of digitalised virtual reality and the unforced manner of how it imparts its positive messages on the viewers. A big bravo to the filmmakers!