There have been so many remakes of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s “The Secret Garden” that Colin Firth has now starred in two.
The Oscar-winning actor originally played the adult version of Colin Craven (Hayhurst) in the 1986 rendition. Here, Firth is the grandmaster of lunacy, Lord Archibald Craven, with little screen time, but his name in big letters on the marquee.
Last week we saw Dixie Egerickx in “Summerland,” playing a difficult child. Here she is the lead character, Mary Lennox, another unlikeable youngster.
“The Secret Garden” has an unlikeable character problem. It is only when we meet the mysterious gardener, Dickon (whom the crippled Colin Craven describes as handsome), that the audience finds someone amenable. Oscar nominee Julie Walters’ (“Harry Potter,” “Brooklyn”) usual charm, wit and whimsy are wasted here as the strict and gruff housekeeper.
Following the tragic death of both her parents, Mary Lennox (Egerickx) leaves her home in India to reside with her estranged Uncle Craven (Firth) at Misselthwaite Manor in Yorkshire. She is given strict instructions by Mrs. Medlock (Walters), the housekeeper, not to roam the house and that she will not be provided with amusement.
Accustomed to having finer foods, being dressed by servants and living in luxury, Mary doesn’t adjust well until she finds a mysterious dog on the outskirts of the property. The dog leads her to a magical garden with healing properties.
The manor begins to reveal secrets about her mother and her aunt as well as her disabled cousin, Colin Craven (Hayhurst), who is confined to his bed. The Secret Garden allows Mary and her new friends to cope with their loss and celebrate their loved ones.
“The Secret Garden” falls into the category of too dark for younger children and not thrilling enough for older teens. As the unlikable characters go, Egerickx’s performance as the overly bratty and difficult protagonist is a turn-off and a hard sell for the audience to see her as anything but a spoiled brat.
A 2020 version of this story should be able to fill in the simple plot holes like why a mother can’t explain to her daughter that she misses her sister so much.
Jack Thorne’s adaptation of the novel doesn’t strive for the modern interpretation that’s hanging like ripe fruit. It’s written and directed like a ’90s live-action Disney family movie, missing it’s potential.
It’s a slow build of darkness and death leading up to the magic and color that would likely have brought younger children to the material. Director Marc Munden, whose background is mostly in episodic British television, never offers the viewer a real reason to stray from previous versions of the material.
What looks like stunning visual effects in the trailer doesn’t hold up to closer inspection. Thanks to the slow-moving plot, it’s easy to spot wired leaves and branches, for example. More distractions jump out as the mismanagement of editing various landscapes together, including those with heavy CGI.
You never feel like you’re looking at a singular location. Of course, these technical imperfections won’t bother young eyes looking for entertainment or diversion.
“The Secret Garden” is simply not on the level of quality or interest with what’s available in family entertainment.
Final Thought: This imperfect family film adaptation has a myriad of problems, from casting and characterizations to dark subject matter and editing technicalities.