The Secret Garden 2020 (CREDIT: Studiocanal)

Starring: Dixie Egerickx, Colin Firth, Julie Walters, Edan Hayhurst, Amir Wilson

Director: Marc Munden

Running Time: 100 Minutes

Rating: PG for Some Kids and a Dog Running Around Like They Own the Place

Release Date: August 7, 2020 (On Demand)

I contend that The Secret Garden is best experienced at a young age and then remembered as some half-formed dream. I’m pretty sure I saw the 1993 adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel that starred Maggie Smith, but I don’t have any specific memories of it. (Furthermore, I don’t really remember seeing Smith in anything before Harry Potter.) When I heard that a new Secret Garden was arriving in 2020, I thought of A Little Princess, the other mid-90s adaptation of a Frances Hodgson Burnett book. With all that scrambling going on in my head, it’s important to identify one key difference, as the 2020 Garden shoots the setting ahead to 1947, as opposed to the early 20th century when the book was published.

That update doesn’t make a huge difference to me, an American who considers the vast English estates of 1947 to be pretty dang similar to the vast English estates of 1911. But it certainly makes a difference to the orphaned Mary Lennox (Dixie Egerickx), who was born in India to English parents who now finds herself adrift much as the British Empire was adrift in the buildup to the Indian Partition. She is sent to live with her uncle Archibald (Colin Firth) in a mansion that seems to have no geographic connection to the rest of the world. When she arrives, she attempts to cajole her wheelchair-bound cousin Colin (Edan Hayhurst) out of bed, but since he seems to have forgotten how to experience the joys of childhood, she must venture outside on her own to the estate’s seemingly infinite grounds. There she befriends a scruffy dog and the unsupervised Dickon (Amir Wilson) and also becomes entranced by the most sun-dappled vegetation in all of England.

For my money, The Secret Garden is about the restorative power of nature. Mary and Dickon are the only characters with any sense of joy for most of the film, while Archibald and Colin seem to be spiraling headlong into depression by spending all their time inside. When you’re a kid, the value of getting out of the house can seem like magic, especially in a setting as sublime as this movie’s. Mary certainly displays some magical thinking, both positively and negatively, as she believes herself responsible for her ill mother’s death. Whenever she views things that way, it is obvious that there is some rational explanation. Indeed, with adult eyes, the secret garden does not feel all that secret, and any magical occurrences that take place there probably only look that way from a child’s perspective. But I can see how much May, Colin, and Dickon are enraptured by their wonder of the place, and I hope there are some five-year-old kids out there who see this film and have it stick in a hidden corner of their subconscious that reminds them forever that magic is real.

The Secret Garden is Recommended If You Like: The vast English countryside

Grade: 3 out of 5 Blooms