While we've all been sick with whooping cough these last few weeks, we've been renting quite a few DVDs - mostly animated films, of which I thought the most memorable were: Flushed Away, Horton Hears a Who, and Kung Fu Panda -- Jerry Seinfeld's Bee Movie was also okay. Last week, we rented - amongst several other movies - The Secret Garden.
A few weeks ago I wrote a post concerning Frances Hodgeson Burnett's classic book. Considering that I've recently been re-reading The Secret Garden, renting the DVD just now was especially timely! Here are a few of my thoughts on The Secret Garden movie, in relation to the book, and as a movie in and of itself. I'm assuming most of you know the plot. :-)
I think the overall message put across by the film is one of healing - both internal healing, and, in Colin Craven's case, external/physical healing as well. Four hurting people are thrown in each other's way, and they each, in some way or another, contribute to the healing of the others. Ten-year-old Mary Lennox; Ben Weatherstaff, the crabby old gardener; Mary's cousin, Colin, also ten years old; and Mary's uncle/Colin's father, Archibald Craven, still desperately wounded ten years after the death of his beloved wife.
The story is told primarily through the eyes of a child, Mary. I first saw this movie many years ago, when I was a very small child myself. These two factors combined made viewing the movie again the other day a deeply moving, somewhat nostalgic experience. This film does not in any way push a sentimental Victorian view of childhood - all of the children in the story are very real and very imperfect. The scene where Mary is dreaming/reminiscing was particularly moving and heart-rending to watch. We see a very young child, only two or three years old, walking with her mother. Suddenly, the mother is swept away - by the wind, or some unknown force (it's a dream, remember) - and the child is left deserted - by herself - utterly alone and unprotected in the world, with no mother to nurture her, care for her, love her, protect her. This is symbolic of Mary's loss - not so much the death of her mother, but rather her mother's failure to play a role in Mary's life while she was still living. When her mother dies, Mary, at the age of ten, didn't - couldn't grieve for her mother, because she never knew her. Mrs. Lennox was always totally absorbed in her own life - she barely seemed aware of her daughter's existence.
The other major theme of the story is new life springing up in place of death. As the Spring comes, and the Secret Garden comes to life, so does life seep back into the hearts of Mary, Colin, and eventually Mr. Craven. Colin, previously spoilt rotten and harbouring a morbidity in his mind unnatural in a child of ten, is jolted back to life and reality by the presence of his cousin, Mary, and their friend, Dickon - a precocious boy with a passion for animals and the moor.
Mr. Craven, traversing Europe in search of peace of mind and some relief from his heartache, is startled by a dream in which he hears his late wife's voice calling him. . . "Archie. . . Archie! In the garden! I'm in the garden. . ." He rushes back to his Yorkshire estate, where he eventually makes his way back to the garden which he and his wife tended together, so many years ago. No longer is the garden empty and unoccupied - he finds in it a glory of flowers, trees, all in full bloom. He finds his niece, Mary - the daughter of his darling wife's sister, the little girl whom he had previously ignored - and he finds his son, Colin, who desperately loves his father, and has been anxiously awaiting his return. New life and healing has come at last, in the hearts of three people, now finally together as a family.
Whew - sorry if I rambled a bit, there. I just had to get that out of my system. :-) The psychological aspect of this story has struck me as being particularly profound and insightful and full of symbolism, especially so for a children's book, published almost a century ago.
If you're wanting to watch this movie, I should warn you about a couple of scenes. This film is well and truly a product of the '90s - by this I mean that it follows the [at the time] fashionable trend seen in other 1990s childrens movies (such as A Little Princess 1995, and even Disney movies such as The Lion King and Pocahontas) of emphasising the spiritual, and even hinting at some distinctly New Age philosophy. There are slightly disturbing New Age-y undertones to one scene in particular in The Secret Garden. We usually just fast-forward through this bit.
That being said, I highly recommend this film for anyone, except perhaps very young children, for whom some scenes may be too disturbing.
I didn't like some of the changes made from the book. I felt that there was plenty of room to develop the roles of some of the secondary characters - especially Ben Weatherstaff, and Mrs. Sowerby, who doesn't even get a mention in the movie! It all seemed a little bit too rushed - I would have been happy to sit through another 30 - 40 minutes, if it would have allowed them to include more details from the book. I don't know, maybe because it was a children's movie [though in reality it makes excellent viewing for adults as well as children] they felt that they had to keep it short so as not to lose the attention of their young viewers. (?)
Still, it's a wonderful movie. The guy who played Mr. Craven seemed a bit too creepy - what's with the hair?! But the acting from all of the child actors was first-class. The soundtrack is absolutely beautiful - very emotive, and perfect suited to the film. It was beautifully filmed, fully capturing the untameable beauty of the moor, the eeriness and mystery of Misselthwaite Manor, and the glorious wonder-filled atmosphere of the Secret Garden itself.
4 out of 5 stars. :-)
One more thing -- have any of you seen the BBC 1987 adaptation of The Secret Garden? Was it any good?
VERY annoyed with myself!!!! Aarrgh! There was an item on eBay which I was keeping an eye on, and guess what - I completely forgot about it while writing the above post, so now I miss out! >:-(