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Movie Review | The Secret Garden [2020]

Childhood reading memories follow you, sticking by you and impacting you into adulthood. They are like literary ‘imaginary friends;’ a nostalgic and escapist comfort. Mine include the Famous Five and Mallory Towers by Enid Blyton, The Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, C.S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

So, when a new movie adaption of the 1911 children’s classic, The Secret Garden, starring Colin Firth, makes it to the big screen, it is a no-brainer to immerse oneself in a world of childhood reverie and recollection. Every movie adaptation of a classic children’s book will have its own unique touches, but the general story arc remains simple and true to the original. The emphasis of this 2020 remake of the Secret Garden reminds me of G.K. Chesterton’s paraphrased reflection on fairy tales: “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”

The medium of story and a momentary world of escapism help the characters to make sense of the real world with all its unfairness, pain, fear and sadness. The movie’s setting starts with a prologue in colonial India, 1947, where we are introduced to Mary (Dixie Egerickx), the protagonist of the story. Orphaned, she is shipped home to England to stay in the care of her reclusive uncle, Lord Craven, in Yorkshire, England. The dark, haunting and sombre contrast of her new home, Misselthwaite Hall, and the magical and enchanting realism of the secret garden, (and the backstory memories of her mother), are the key ingredients for the movie’s storyline and the underlying emotional narrative. The message is simple: “That’s the thing isn’t it. Loss changes people.” When the prison of pain and loss shackles the characters to a paralysing past instead of them celebrating the life of loved ones who are gone, they slowly die within themselves, forcing those around them to give up on life for fear of further loss. This is our introduction to Colin Firth’s character and that of his son, and it is the premise for Mary, a stray dog whom she names Jemima, and her friend Dickon, to transform all their lives and bring healing and hope through the discovery and wonder of a secret garden. The coming of age lessons in the Secret Garden are gentle and memorable. It is about not saying goodbye to childhood and the healing power of stories. It is about navigating a world of loss through the wonder of imagination. It is about escaping the ghosts of memory by embracing the captivating colours and magic of childhood. It is about abandoning what you had chosen to believe about the past and who you are. It is about not letting fear limit your joy. It is about friendship and hope and allowing memories to find the right place to land in your heart and mind. “If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.” -Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden The tender and complex themes of grief and loneliness are sensitively interwoven with themes of compassion, curiosity and friendship, giving the movie a delightful charm as the visually magical secret garden becomes a character of its own and nurtures, heals and restores. “The Secret Garden, as it always has, aims to open a gate for kids, a passage to a rejuvenating place that both validates and soothes adolescent fears too scary to handle unaccompanied.” -Tomris Laffly We all need escapist moments of magic and wonder and The Secret Garden - in movie or book format - is exactly that.



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