Richard sits in on the CFRA Ottawa morning show with guest host Matt Harris to talk the new movies coming to theatres, VOD and streaming services including the college comedy “I Used to Go Here” starring Gillian Jacobs, the psychological thriller “She Dies Tomorrow,” the crime drama “The Burnt Orange Heresy,” the kid’s fantasy “The Secret Garden” and the biodoc “Howard: The Howard Ashman Story.”
“The Secret Garden,” the latest adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic 1911 novel, brings the classic story of friendship and wonder to VOD this week.
The tale begins in India in 1947 on the eve of Partition in India. Mary Lennox (Dixie Egerickx), born in India to wealthy English parents, finds herself orphaned when mummy and daddy suddenly pass away in a cholera outbreak. Sent to live with Archibald Craven (Colin Firth, who played a version of his son Colin in a 1987 TV movie of “The Secret Grden”), an aloof uncle she’s never met on his remote and rambling Yorkshire moors estate, the youngster has trouble adapting to life in the large country house under the strict housekeeper Mrs. Medlock (Julie Walters).
While exploring Misselthwaite Manor Mary makes some interesting finds. She meets Colin (Edan Hayhurst), her ailing cousin whose been locked away in one wing of the house. Both are stinging from the loss of a parent—his mother passed—and both feel like outsiders in the family.
When Mary discovers a hidden garden tucked away on the grounds, she and her friend Dickon (Amir Wilson) tend to the forgotten patch of land. Bringing the garden back to life also awakens the place’s natural restorative power that helps Mary, Colin and Mr. Craven heal, physically and spiritually.
Fans of the book should know liberties have been taken with the classic text. The shift to 1947 works, adding an additional layer of meaning to Mary’s story of distress. It helps base the tale in the reality of the situation but the movie allows magic realism to seep in.
That it is from the producer of the “Harry Potter” and “Paddington” movies means that it has a family-friendly fantasy gloss that the original text and other adaptations have done without. The magical elements may only exist in Mary’s imagination and not stem from the wonder of nature as the book suggests, but they are pronounced. There are ghosts and the garden’s trees respond to the kids, almost like Treebeard in “Lord of the Rings: Two Towers.” It adds a more whimsical tone to a story that had previously relied on the more grounded ideas of exercise and fresh air as a road to physical and mental health.
What it all means, really, is that the story isn’t quaint anymore. The new “The Secret Garden” is a handsomely made, big CGI movie that plays like “Masterpiece Theatre” for kids. Closer in tone to “Harry Potter” than author Frances Hodgson Burnett’s original ode to the healing power of love, kindness and nature, it isn’t as soulful as other versions but should appeal to younger audiences who are used to glossy adaptations of books for kids.