The Secret Garden (1987)


Our rating: 4 out of 5

Rated: G

reviewed by Lindsay Graham


In colonial India, young Mary Lennox (Gennie James) leads a life of indolence as the daughter of a British officer and his wife. Yet when her parents suddenly die, and she is left without a home or any prospects, the only option for her is to be sent to England to reside in her uncles home, Misselthwaite Manor. In Yorkshire, Mary's life is utterly changed, few people take notice of her, and the country is in stark contrast to her native land. Yet when she discovers the tragic causes of her uncles melancholy, and hears of a garden locked away behind stone walls, her interest is piqued and Mary wont rest until she finds the key that will unlock the secret garden. Along the way, she meets Dickon Sowerby (Barret Oliver), an odd lad from the village, and Colin Craven (Jadrien Steele), her ill cousin who has been hidden away in the manor. For all three of the children, the garden is a magical place to plant and dream. There, hidden away from the world, Mary and her friends come to life as they make the garden grow, yet what will Archibald Cravens reaction be when he discovers that the garden has been unlocked?


There is wit, there is humor, and this adaptation is perhaps the most faithful to the book, but it still seems to fail a bit in comparison to the book itself, past adaptations, and even a future adaptation. The warmth found in the book is lacking, and there is an almost indescribable melancholy that infiltrates the production in even the lightest moments. Somehow, a viewer cant help but feel that the director and screenwriter were more concerned with the flowers than a true depth of plot, character development, or anything to make the film truly shine. The acting is superb, especially that done by Michael Hordern, Derek Jacobi, and the young actors, but the script doesn't give them much of an opportunity to play with their characters and let the audience fall in love with the fanciful tale Burnett penned. Of course, the virtue of this adaptation is that there is a very minimal amount of objectionable content with Mary saying, I don't give a tinkers damn, and one character foreseeing his future death. Yet, minimal objectionable content doesn't seem to save this film from over-interest in plants and lack of interest in what really matters. 


At many moments I found it intriguing and enjoyable, but at the end, my overall feeling was disappointment and I was disappointed in even feeling disappointed. Although, in its favor, this adaptation is also in possession of lovely sets and costuming. It is beautifully filmed, and the garden and grounds utilized in the production are indeed very beautiful. Additionally, entirely different from other adaptations in one particular aspect, is the story of Archibald Craven and three children finding joy in the garden being framed by scenes of an adult Mary and Colin returning to Misselthwaite Manor. In fact, one scene that will prove very interesting to most Anglophiles is the appearance of Colin Firth as the adult Colin Craven in a later scene. 


If you're a fan of any of the actors in this film or prefer a darker telling of the tale then I highly recommend it, for the actors wont disappoint you and there are some splendid moments, but if this adaptation doesn't sound quite like your cup of tea, then I recommend either of the adaptations from 1949 or 1996. This secret garden is beautiful to behold and does overcome some of its flaws, but you might not see much growth from it.