The Secret Garden (2020) Parent Guide
This movie is well suited for family viewing, but it misses the mark for fans of the novel.
Parent Movie Review
Mary Lennox is an unhappy child. Raised in India during the last days of the British Raj, Mary tells stories to entertain herself in the face of her mother’s emotional neglect. Now with both parents dead from cholera, Mary has been sent to the desolate moors of Yorkshire to live with her uncle, Archibald Craven. Hunchbacked and reclusive, Lord Craven is uninterested in his niece, and prefers not to be reminded of his late, adored wife whom Mary so closely resembles. Left entirely to her own devices, Mary roams the vast Misselthwaite estate until she comes across a walled garden that just might contain enough magic to bring happiness to all the lost souls in the manor.
The Secret Garden is one of the great classics of children’s literature. Written by Frances Hodgson Burnett in 1911, it has been loved by generations of children. I read and re-read my copy to the point that the binding fell off and pages started to fall out. Two copies now stand on my bookshelf - just in case. Given the iconic status of the novel, adapting it for film (for the fifth time!) is a risky proposition. Fans are fervent and the bar is high, which raises the all-important question: How good is this version?
I would have to reply that this adaptation of The Secret Garden is a decidedly mixed bag. On the plus side, it is undoubtedly a gorgeous production with vibrant, color-saturated vistas in the secret garden that will evoke gasps of wonder from even the most jaded of viewers. It is also blessed with an outstanding lead performer. Child actors are often the weak spot of a movie, with a strong tendency towards stiff, wooden acting. Not Dixie Egerickx. This talented young girl delivers a tour de force as the passionate, imaginative, imperious, and lonely Mary Lennox. She provides the emotional weight that grounds the film and any successes are due to her.
Unfortunately, the film isn’t a triumph. It begins well - although I can’t understand why the timeframe was moved from Edwardian England to the post-World War II period. The pacing is brisk, the gloomy and foreboding atmosphere of Misselthwaite convincing. But the movie doesn’t invest enough time or emotion in building Mary’s relationships with the other children in the story. And in the final third of the film, the script abandons the novel’s plotline and devolves into a tired, clichéd psychodrama. Parents will not be happy to see Lord Craven drink what is apparently alcohol and in an impaired state, carelessly cause a major house fire. Fortunately, there is little other negative content besides a few moments of peril that will not alarm most children.
This is a film that is well suited for family viewing but might not hit the mark for fans of the novel. Frankly, I was disappointed to see the “secret garden” morph into a “magic garden”. In the book, the garden’s enchantment is simply the everyday magic of Mother Nature – turning seeds into plants and bringing health and life to those who spend time outdoors. But in the film, the garden is a vast series of landscapes which are explicitly magical with instantly growing flowers; helpful trees and birds; vivid, out-of-this-world, saturated colors; and rapid healing powers. It’s breathtakingly beautiful, but its very other-worldliness removes it from our own experience and makes it seem unattainable. What we need instead is the hopeful message of the original story – that patience, hard work, and the natural rhythms of nature can give us a brighter future than we can see in dark times.Directed by Marc Munden. Starring Dixie Egerickx, Colin Firth, Julie Walters, Edan Hayhurst. Running time: 99 minutes. Theatrical release August 7, 2020. Updated August 11, 2020
Watch the trailer for The Secret Garden (2020)Dixie Egerickx, Colin Firth, Julie Walters, Edan Hayhurst
The Secret Garden (2020)
Rating & Content Info
Why is The Secret Garden (2020) rated PG? The Secret Garden (2020) is rated PG by the MPAA for thematic elements and some mild peril
Violence: There is mention of kidnapping. A child is abandoned in an empty house when her parents die. An angry child throws her doll overboard into the sea. A child falls off a high wall and rolls down a hill. A dog is caught in a trap and we see his wounded paw. A child is shown buckled into restraints in bed. An impaired man causes a house fire.
Sexual Content: None noted.
Profanity: None noted.
Alcohol / Drug Use: A main character drinks what is likely alcohol – the nature of the drink is not specified, but he acts intoxicated.
Page last updated August 11, 2020
The Secret Garden (2020) Parents' Guide
Have you read The Secret Garden? What do you think about how this movie’s script changes the story? If you were the director, how would you adapt the text?
Both the book and movie show that Mary and the other characters benefit from spending time in the garden. Have you noticed the benefits of enjoying nature? Scientists have learned that being outdoors has a measurable effect on mental health. Why do you think nature helps our mood?
Psychology Today: Why Connecting With Nature Elevates Your Mental Health
Loved this movie? Try these books…
If you want to read the real story, look for the original novel, The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. She also wrote another novel, A Little Princess, which is about an English girl who comes from India to attend boarding school in London.
For another story about an orphan who winds up in a beautiful place, try Elizabeth Goudge’s The Little White Horse. It follows the adventures of Maria Merryweather when she goes to live with her uncle in his magical estate, Moonacre, nestled in Silverydew. There is trouble in paradise, and Maria is the one destined to save her new home.
A red-headed orphan winds up in beautiful Prince Edward Island in Anne of Green Gables. With a vivid imagination and flair for storytelling, Anne has captivated generations of readers.
Related home video titles:
The Secret Garden was also adapted for film in 1993 and this version hews more closely to the original story. Another novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, A Little Princess, is also available in movie form.
An orphaned boy tries to restore the only legacy he received from his father in Hugo. Set in early 20th century Paris, this film has a convincing historical atmosphere.
In Pollyanna, the titular orphan brings good cheer to the home of her wealthy aunt and proceeds to lighten the lives of her entire community.
The power of nature to heal itself is evidenced in the documentary The Biggest Little Farm.
Colin Firth plays a widowed and overwhelmed father in Nanny McPhee. Emma Thompson stars as the nanny who brings order to his home and family.