The Secret Garden (1975)
Clocking in at 222 minutes (or seven half-hour
episodes), this children’s classic has much beyond duration in common
with BBC period productions. Based on the novel by F H Burnett (who
lived from the mid nineteenth century to the 1920s), the plot is about a
spoilt little girl Mary Lennox (Sarah Hollis Andrews) sent to the
Yorkshire moors from India because of a cholera outbreak.
She is confronted by a cold, old house with
unfriendly servants and a colder uncle who only grudgingly concedes to
see her. She does her exploring on the grounds and finds a ‘secret
garden’ which used to belong to her decade-deceased auntie. She is the
first to enter this over-grown, sealed-off patch by finding a key. She
soon finds the hidden beauty of the place and goes about restoring some
order to the ‘jungle’. She also meets the local nature-boy, Dickon
(Andrew Harrison), who shows her the ‘magic’ of life as expressed
Later, Mary also finds her sickly cousin, who has
been locked up in the house because he and everyone around him think his
death is just a matter of time. Having two equally spoilt brats confront
each other is very entertaining! The three children busy themselves in
the secret garden and turn it into a thing of beauty once more.
Do not expect expensive production values here. Most
of the scenes are interior, except for the garden ones. The sets come
across as a bit rickety and claustrophobic. Often, a background is
merely painted and it shows. Still, these are minor details. It is an
engrossing narrative, because it keeps you wondering ‘what happens
next’. It is also very Yorkshire dialect, among the servants at least.
Having the subtitles on becomes a must—at any rate, it was for me.
The disc also carries quite a long interview with the
four principal actors (in a garden) about their experiences during the
filming and their careers afterwards. It is quite interesting.
I am not so sure how easily The Secret Garden
will be taken up by children today. I’m not saying that it’s showing its
age, but the characters are complex, not simplistic; the environment is
‘old school’ and there is no animation of flashy effects. It does
require some dedication in the viewing. I think it’s quite nice
nostalgia for those who may have seen it as a child originally or for
those (like me) who will generally draw up a seat to almost anything
with the BBC emblem of endorsement.