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New ‘Garden’ blossoms with magic

The Secret Garden was first published in 1911 and quickly became a staple of children’s literature, especially among young girls. Given its popularity, it’s not surprising there have been multiple film adaptations, as well as a TV series and a Broadway musical.

This weekend finds the release of yet another film version. While I’m not a huge fan of the book, I must admit I enjoyed this latest film, mostly because it doubles down on the magical content that only flits around the edges of the original material. It’s this sense of magic and wonder that elevates this film above the rest.

The filmmakers have taken considerable liberties with the text, moving the story forward to 1947. I’m not sure much was gained by this, but suffice it to say that young Mary (Dixie Egerickx) is still whisked off to her uncle’s estate following the death of her parents.

Things are bleak for Mary as she struggles to find her place in a household run by her dour uncle (Colin Firth) and demanding housekeeper (Julie Walter), but things look better when she gets the chance to play in a garden hidden behind high walls and a locked gate.

The garden is amazing. It is as lush as any tropical rain forest and filled with plants that bloom in response to Mary’s emotions.

If that’s not enough, it’s populated by some magical animals and soon becomes a place of healing for Mary and a few young friends.

The young actors in the film do a pretty good job here, considering they are all film novices. I still hate that Mary and her cousin, Colin (Edan Hayhurst) begin the story as such spoiled children that they are dislikeable for the first half of the movie, but that’s just setting up the redemption arc of the story.

Still, this character growth has always seemed a bit forced to me — I told you I’m not a huge fan of the story.

As for the notable grown up actors, I’m afraid that they don’t offer much. The Secret Garden has always been about the lives of the children, so unused adult acting talent doesn’t really affect the movie other than another forced bit of character growth at the end.

Ultimately the kids are solid, and the cinematography and production design are superb.

I also love the running time is a tight 99 minutes as several of the previous films were too slack-paced for my personal tastes.

Add in a soaring musical score and The Secret Garden becomes a great family film that’s full of friendship and lots of magic.

Perhaps they should have changed the title to The Magic Garden.

The Secret Garden is streaming on Amazon Prime Video, beginning Aug. 7.

Movie reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published each week in The Port Arthur News and seen weekly on KFDM and Fox4. Sean welcomes your comments at smcbride@sbgtv.com.

 

The Secret Garden

STX Films

Directed by Marc Munden

Starring Dixie Egerickx, Edan Hayhurst, Amir Wilson, Colin Firth and Julie Walter

Rated PG

3 Stars