Welcome to British Isles Friday! British Isles Friday is a weekly event for sharing all things British and Irish — reviews, photos, opinions, trip reports, guides, links, resources, personal stories, interviews, and research posts. Join us each Friday to link your British and Irish themed content and to see what others have to share. The link list is at the bottom of this post. Pour a cup of tea or lift a pint and join our link party!
The Secret Garden (2020)
For spring and in the midst of watching 2020 movies ahead of the Academy Awards, I really wanted to see the newest film version of The Secret Garden. I didn’t have free access to a streaming version, so I checked out the DVD from the library.
The Secret Garden is a beautiful movie to watch for flora plus some special-effect fauna. I enjoyed the acting, too, including the young actors who played Mary, Colin, and Dickon.
I try to enjoy films as completely separate artistic productions from the books that inspired them, but I had a hard time with this one, unfortunately.
I kept waiting for the gardener, Ben Weatherstaff, to show up, but he never did. How can you have a garden without a gardener? In this film, the magic is more than metaphorical. Gardens and healing are brought about by unseen, magical forces.
I feel terribly Victorian saying this, but it seems to me that the whole point of The Secret Garden, the original classic book by Frances Hodgson Burnett, was that gardens and mental health require attention and work. And that tending to a garden and one’s mental health, together, can have magical (in the metaphorical sense) results. The need to work on one’s own mental health is a message that kids of every generation need — and particularly a generation of kids who are living through a pandemic. I felt the film lost a little something by giving so much over to fantasy.
I suspect my 10-year-old self would have adored this film, however, magic included.
Since I was mildly disappointed, I thought I’d go see what other versions of The Secret Garden that I had access to.
The Secret Garden (2017)
The only other film version that I could stream was a steampunk update from 2017 on Amazon Prime.
I had no trouble keeping this version separate from what I know about the book. From the first scene, it’s very different with an industrial setting and a Mary Lennox who is an independent teenager.
It’s clear from the credits that this was a very low budget production. I love that it was filmed on location at the Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark in Birmingham, Alabama with a tiny cast and crew.
This version of The Secret Garden has a real villain — an interesting addition to the plot.
My 14-year-old self would have adored this film, in spite of some lack of polish in the script and acting that my adult self finds a little annoying. I wouldn’t have noticed that when I was younger. I would have just enjoyed the adventure.
Secret Gardens of England (2007)
While searching for The Secret Garden, I also happened on a documentary called Secret Gardens of England. This can be streamed with Amazon Prime.
Alan Titchmarsh is a well-known gardening journalist in the UK. In this documentary, he takes us to 16 different gardens in two hours. I loved the variety. We first visited the garden at John Ruskin’s country home. Another garden was created out of a bit of abandoned land next to a row of council houses.
My two favorite gardens are almost complete opposites of each other.
The first was designed by Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll for Hestercombe House. It was originally the garden behind a manor house. The house has been converted to the headquarters and dispatch of a fire brigade. But, there behind it, if you know to look, is a beautiful historic garden by two of the most prominent influencers of gardening and landscape architecture to this day.
My other favorite garden is designed by the non-famous owner of a conventional small back yard. She gets around in a scooter and built herself a gorgeous little refuge that she can tend herself while in her chair.
Each garden in Secret Gardens of England is visited separately, as if we’re being taken along on garden visits over multiple spring weekends. This is a fun documentary to watch if you want something that you can enjoy for a few minutes at a time and then abandon for another project, returning for another secret garden when you want a break.