Literary Miscellanea: The Secret Garden Book-to-Movie

Note: Literary Flashback has been renamed to Literary Miscellanea because the older name no longer makes sense. Literary Miscellanea is the section of my blog dedicated to “non-book-review stuff” (reflection posts, essays by famous authors, passages from favorite works, etc.). 

For the next few weeks I will briefly discuss some book-to-movie adaptations that I enjoy. Spoilers will be included. You have been warned.

The Secret Garden

Today I will focus on The Secret Garden by  Frances Hodgson Burnett and the 1993 film adaptation directed by Agnieszka Holland (Maggie Smith plays Mrs. Medlock).

You can read my review of Burnett’s The Secret Garden here. As I wrote in my review, I mostly enjoyed the book, but I found the philosophy a bit off-putting. I am quite open-minded when it comes to other peoples’ religious or philosophical views, but Christian Science’s belief in praying away sickness just doesn’t sit well with me. Colin is a hypochondriac, so his sickness was imaginary anyway, but Burnett implies in a few places in the book that good thoughts can help legitimately sick people be cured. Still, the book is a celebration of childhood. Friendship helps overcome personal and family challenges.

The 1993 film adaptation is the first Maggie Smith movie I ever saw. The film itself is (in my opinion) far superior to the book. The philosophy that I found so problematic in the book is mostly absent from the movie. Magical realism replaces positive thinking. The focus is entirely on the power of friendship.

The garden is stunning. I think we can all agree that English moors and gardens look better on the screen than on paper. Roses and Empress of India lilies grow everywhere, and Dickens’ robin is a charming character. We never meet Martha’s family, but Martha’s character makes up for the lack.

But the most compelling character in the movie is Lord Archibald Craven. When his wife dies he locks up the garden and runs from the world. Mrs. Medlock never questions Lord Craven’s belief that Colin is dying. He has cast a spell on the whole manor, and only Mary knows the truth. She has to convince Colin and his father that their fears are imaginary, but this is a tall order. As expected, innocence is restored when Lord Craven returns to his garden.

The 1993 Secret Garden film may not be a masterpiece of cinematography, but it is still very good. Some critics fault it for not being optimistic enough, but the darkness underscores Lord Craven’s neurosis. His fears and sorrows have crippled (in more than one way) not only himself but his 10 year old son who has never even experienced sunlight. If you have read and enjoyed Burnett’s book, I highly recommend the 1993 film adaptation.

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3 thoughts on “Literary Miscellanea: The Secret Garden Book-to-Movie

  1. I bumped into this fabulous book on internet, one day in 2011 and fell in love with it. And later saw its 1949, MGM adaptation with Margaret O’Brien as Mary, Dean Stockwell as Colin and Brian Roper as Dickon. It was a black white one except for one garden scene. But I am eager to see this version after reading your review. I have been trying to find this but couldn’t find it either online or in my video library.

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