A lonely, young girl is sent to the barren moors of England to live with her uncle after the untimely death of her parents. While there, her character is initially that of an isolated, angry, and even pretentious child, but when she encounters Dickon, a gentle lad from the moors, she lets him into her sad, lonely world, and the two begin to restore a neglected and forgotten garden. The children ultimately bring joy and healing to a place which has until then been shrouded in melancholy.
The essence of Agnieszka Holland’s wonderous 1993 film adaptation of The Secret Garden is realized in the metamorphosis which occurs simultaneously with the Secret Garden and particularly with the character of Mary (Kate Maberly). When the audience is first introduced to the secret garden, it is a place filled with sadness and decay. As Mary and the other children begin to break the melancholy surrounding the garden, the audience plays witness to the dramatic transformation of the garden from a place of despair and death to a place filled with joy, life and beauty.
The same transformation is apparent in Mary. Initially, Mary’s appearance is almost brittle. Her appearance and behavior always appeared to me to be a protective shield from the lack of affection from her parents and the disdain of those around her. When Mary encounters Dickon (Andrew Knott) and they begin to heal the garden and bring it back to life, she is transformed from a brittle child into a warm and vibrant young lady. In healing the garden, Mary ultimately restores both herself and the garden.
There is a recurring theme with the number ten which is woven in The Secret Garden. The garden that Mary discovers has been locked for ten years. While it first the garden appears to be merely forgotten, as the story unfolds, the children elicit the true reason for the isolation of the garden – a family tragedy which Mary’s uncle, Lord Craven (John Lynch) has forbidden anyone to ever speak of. The number ten is also significant symbolically for Mary and her spoiled, young cousin, Colin (Heydon Prowse).The children share a nearly identical history. Both of them were hidden away from their parents in the care of servants who barely tolerated or understood them. Both are ten years old. And both have lost a parent (or, in Mary’s case, both of her parents) to death in tragic accidents.
Magic is a very strong but understated theme in The Secret Garden, and the way that it is portrayed is creative and unique in the sense that this form of “magic” is not traditionally seen in movies, however, its rare quality is what makes The Secret Garden such a special movie. For me, growing up as a child watching this movie and even now as I am an adult, the “magic” of The Secret Garden is really the notion that life can be restored by believing strongly enough that it can be restored. The children believed that the garden could be restored, and with a bit of love and “magic,” they restored the garden to life.
The Secret Garden is a rare and timeless movie which both children and adults can relate to because the message woven in the story is universal. The casting is exceptional, particularly in the choices of Kate Maberly as Mary and Maggie Smith as the stern housekeeper, Mrs Medlock. The musical score from Zbigniew Preisner almost hypnotizes the audience with its haunting melodies and creates a stunning accompaniment to the storyline. If you enjoy a classic, wholesome drama, then this is a movie which is well worth your time to watch.