Youth II

film 2 of 4

The Secret Garden

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 31, 2015

Still, always, very beautiful. The technical credits are irreproachable, and the kids are lovely too—especially this Miss Maberly. That dark, impassive, offended and resentful face is at first more Charlotte Bronte than what we usually think of Frances Hodgson Burnett. Things will change, but the initial effect lingers on, and very productively. It’s interesting. This child is Ebeneezer Scrooge and the first two Christmas ghosts, all in one!

It’s almost annoying to have to say it but Maggie Smith really is a genius, in this case playing the shrew for a comic effect that is subtle and satisfyingly mounting. Oh! That, briefly, is Iréne Jacob!

I mentioned Charlotte Bronte. Of course the source novel makes productive use of a number of gothic conventions, before maybe accidentally and certainly quite wonderfully turning them on their heads. In an unexpected and quite lovely turn, Gothic turns into pastoral. Did the author’s calculations get shanghai’d by childhood’s sweet chaos? Whatever the cause, Ms. Holland’s deft adaptation fully convinces us of the power and possibility of heart’s/hearts’ changes.

The film does retains the book’s reactionary class politics, as it might as well do. They sure are reactionary, though; Dickon is the nature-spirit equivalent of Miss Cathy’s long-suffering maid in Wuthering Heights (Emily B. this time, of course). In connection, they go a tad bit overboard with the gamboling baby animals! Also, John Lynch and his character are a problem going in several directions. Not too much of this is down to the film, and in the end it seems very forgivable. It’s the power of a child, and of nature, especially when or as they are essentially the same thing.