Review: A discreet “Secret Garden” that is still thriving Entertainment

Francis Hodgson Burnett’s “Secret Garden”, first published in 1911, has survived for more than a century. It remains one of the great classics of children’s literature, a book that cleverly combines childhood dreams and nightmares. His balance of darkness and light, death and rebirth is still moving strongly in its rare harmony.

Mark Mandan’s film adaptation, which STX Films will release on demand on Friday, is difficult to penetrate into the interiors of its characters. Sometimes it’s sluggish and too closed for such a vivid story. But, nonetheless, it remains in harmony with the spirit of Burnett’s book, and by the time it reaches its late crescendo, this “Secret Garden” is still flourishing.

“The Secret Garden” has been screened many times before, but only once as the main film, in 1993. Agnieszka Holland’s version, a beautifully crafted family film, remains a classic in itself. Produced by Francis Ford Coppola, filmed by Roger Dickins and starring Maggie Smith as a housekeeper, the Dutch “Secret Garden” (currently broadcast on HBO Max) is tough.

Mandon’s film, written by Jack Thorne, softens some facets of his central character, Mary Lennox (Dixie Egerix). The first line of Burnett’s book refers to the orphaned Mary, whose parents never wanted her, as “the most unpleasant child ever seen.”

After a brief prologue to India, where Mary’s parents are dying of cholera, she arrives at the gloomy and gothic manor of Misselthwaite in the Yorkshire Moors. There she was adopted by her uncle Archibald Craven (Colin Firth), who himself is grieving the loss of his wife. Mary usually finds herself locked in her room, and only gradually does she encounter Archibald or his bedridden son Colin (Edan Hayherst). Her first and only friend for a while was Dixon (Amir Wilson), the son of a gardener. Together they open behind stone walls and ivy a hidden, dream-like garden that will stimulate and reflect their collective healing.

The best thing about Mundan’s “Secret Garden” is that it does not try to limit history or obscure its subject matter. It is a pleasantly patient film that honestly tells of grief, death and rejuvenation without sentimentality. Given today’s average children’s film, this makes “The Secret Garden” an oasis.

“Secret Garden,” a STX Entertainment release, received a PG rating from the American Film Association for thematic elements and little danger. Duration: 102 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

___ Follow AP writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP


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