What’s behind the mysterious locked gate of The Secret Garden? Monsters? Fairies? Dinosaurs? An inter-dimensional vortex? The answer is, as readers of the classic novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett will be well aware, a secret garden; we’re not doing any of the high concept kid-friendly stuff that followed, but stories back in 1911 weren’t overburdened with cross-generational appeal and pop-culture name-drops.
By 2020, Harry Potter producer David Heyman fancied a slice of the mundane action, and brought his own, faithful version to the screen with a name cast including Colin First and Julie Walters. But it’s the kids who shine, with Dixie Egerickx as little orphan Mary Lennox, who in this multi-cultural version loses her parents in India and is shipped back to Blighty. Her uncle, Lord Craven (Firth) warns her not to rock the boat as she investigates his estate, soon discovering a secret garden which becomes a hang-out zone for the Lord’s disabled son Colin (Edan Hayhurst). Another friend, hunter Dickon (Amir Wilson) adds diversity, but Lord Craven doesn’t approve of the direction things are going and accidentally burns the house down on purpose.
Although the scale is small and the stakes are minimal, this version of The Secret Garden has plenty to offer visually, with Lol Crawley (Vox Lux) creating expansive vistas that emphasise how small the kids are in comparison. Jack Thorne, who wrote the Harry Potter stage-play, shifts the narrative only to include a number of diversity sops, but the Victorian core of the novel survives.
A quaint enterprise, perhaps, and likely to bore those in search of more modern, kid-friendly thrills and spills; The Secrets Garden’s biggest audience may well be readers of the original book, keen to see how it matches expectations. And in that area, it may well be successful; it’s an old-school entertainment, the kind of thing serious-minded parents foist on rebellious, uncouth children.