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"THE SECRET GARDEN"
(2020) (Dixie Egerickx, Colin Firth) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: An orphan goes to live with her uncle and discovers a magical secret garden on the estate that changes her outlook on life.
PLOT:

It's 1947 and young Mary Lennox (DIXIE EGERICKX) has found herself an orphan at her late British parents' home in India. She's then shipped off to live with her uncle, Archibald Craven (COLIN FIRTH), at his remote estate known as Misselthwaite Manor on the Yorkshire Moors. She learns the rules of the place from the house manager, Mrs. Medlock (JULIE WALTERS), but that doesn't prevent Mary from acting like a spoiled brat, including toward one of the maids, Martha (ISIS DAVIS), who she believes should be her servant answering her every beck and call.

Mary's attitude begins to change when she befriends a stray dog on the nearby grounds, which leads to her discovering a secret garden that's been walled off from the rest of the world. Her evolution continues when she meets Martha's younger brother, Dickon (AMIR WILSON), and her bedridden cousin, Colin (EDAN HAYHURST), who's been hidden away by his father following the death of Colin's mother.

As Mary gets to know them and discovers more about her late mother, she eventually discovers that the secret garden might just be magical, something she plans to use to help heal her cousin.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10

If you think about it, gardens are a temporal microcosm of life. While some plantings are perennial, many are born, so to speak and then grow, flourish, mature, wither and ultimately die, all in less than a calendar year.

I have no idea if that's what inspired -- to one degree or another -- author Frances Hodgson Burnett to pen "The Secret Garden" more than a century ago, but it would certainly make sense. After all, she was no stranger to shorter than expected life spans. Her father died of a stroke when she was just three-years-old, her mother died eighteen years later, and her son died of tuberculosis when she was thirty-one.

Perhaps she decided to use the life-death-rebirth cycle of gardens for her 1911 work that's since been adapted into film form -- surprisingly -- just three times, the first in 1919, followed by versions in 1949 and 1993. The fourth adaptation arrives in this year that's filled with untimely deaths and hopes of societal rebirth. It could prove to be an elixir for those hoping for some optimism in our current troubled times.

It's been decades since I read Burnett's work, so my memory of that is tenuous at best and thus comparisons between that and this film -- from director Marc Munden and screenwriter Jack Thorne -- are moot. That said, I liked the offering quite a bit as it easily worked its magic over me. Granted, I'm a sucker for films where characters help others in need, even if the latter don't want or realize they need that.

Our protagonist is young Mary Lennox (Dixie Egerickx), a British girl living in India with her parents who wakes up one day to find her home completely deserted and in disarray. After being discovered there by a British soldier days later, she's shipped off to live with her uncle in an immense and foreboding manor located in the Yorkshire Moors and straight out of a gothic horror flick.

Beyond the dimly lit hallways and stern "don't go exploring" rules barked out by the housekeeper (Julie Walters), there are odd sounds and wailing that wakes her up at night and makes her wonder if they might be the souls of soldiers who may have died there during the war (the temporal setting has been moved up to 1947).

Thankfully for her, she discovers the titular place after befriending a stray dog that leads her there. Filled with towering plants, shafts of sunlight, and vibrant colors, it might not quite be Wonderland or Oz, but it's in direct visual and thematic contrast to the rest of the current trappings found in the flick.

She ends up taking a new friend, Dickon (Amir Wilson), there, and later her bedridden cousin, Colin (Edan Hayhurst), who's been hidden away from the world by his widowed and still grieving father (Colin Firth). With the garden having helped turn Mary from an entitled and obnoxious brat into a girl filled with joy and wonder, she believes it can do the same to Colin who's sure he's to die sometime soon. Along the way, both learn about their sister-mothers who didn't leave them with good memories upon their untimely demises.

Filled with themes of loss, grief, rebirth, and yes, magic, the film is a welcome respite from today's real-life horror show where most people can't wait for the year to end and start anew. You know, like anticipating the magic of watching a garden sprout back to life after a cold, hard winter. Until then, you can let this little, unhurried flick work its magic over you. It did for me and thus "The Secret Garden" rates as a 7 out of 10.




Reviewed August 3, 2020 / Posted August 7, 2020


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