The Secret Garden (1975)

TV miniseries review: The Secret Garden (BBC, 1975), directed by Katrina Murray

thesecretgarden1975One of the books I’m currently reading is Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. Am about halfway through and I’m absolutely loving it! Back in school, when I suppose the 1994 adaptation had just been released on video, we got to see it in schoool. Not once, not twice, but about three or four times. In the end it was met with a sigh and “aww, not that one AGAIN!” even though it was still also a big “OMG we get to see a film instead of having a normal lesson! AWESOME!!!” But that was the 1994 movie adaptation. This ain’t it. This is a miniseries, seven parts of half an hour each, made by the BBC back in 1975. You can tell.

It’s very close to the book, mice in cushions and all, just like Wuthering Heights ’78 and Jane Eyre ’73. Very detailed, very close to the books, and very drawn out and at times mind-numbingly slow. Saying that, I love JE’73 and was bored stiff by WH’78 – this is somewhere inbetween. It’s slow, but it’s a good story.

Mary Lennox (Sarah Hollis Andrews) is a ten-year-old (or so) upper class English girl who lives in India with her parents. She’s incredibly spoiled and generally disagreeable. Her parents, and pretty much everyone else too, get wiped out with cholera, but Mary is forgotten about and eventually found by a couple of British soldiers. She gets shipped off to her uncle in Yorkshire.

Misselthwaite Manor, Archibald Craven’s (John Woodnutt) home, is being looked after by the strict, no-nonsense housekeeper, Mrs. Medlock (Hope Johnstone), and Mary, in turn, is being looked after by the wholesome Yorkshire lass Martha (Jacqueline Hoyle), who is stunned by the girl’s inability to do even the simplest of things on her own, such as dressing herself.

Mistress Mary, quite contrary

Eventually, being bored with the exceedingly gloomy and gothic house, Mary finds her way outdoors, and discovers the gardens. She befriends a gardener and a robin, and Martha’s brother Dickon (Andrew Harrison), who can not just keep a secret, he seems to be able to talk with the animals of the moor. Mary also stumbles upon two great mysteries: a secret garden that’s been shut up for the past ten years, and a wailing, crying in the night.

The secret garden gets discovered, obviously, and the crying turns out to be that of Colin (David Patterson), Mr. Craven’s sickly boy, who astonishingly enough is even more stuck-up and “contrary” than Mary herself! Question is, is he really as sickly as he and everyone else thinks he is, or is there hope for the would-be hunchback?

It’s alive!

It’s a wonderful book, and they’ve done a lot to keep it true to the book – although I don’t know where John the servant came from, as he doesn’t seem to be in the book. It’s a heartwarming story and it’s all about finding life where you might think there is none. The only downside is the dreadfully artificial sets (the secret garden looks contrived, like it’s been built in a studio, which no doubt it was), the slow pacing and the stock shots of a robin on a tree branch. A plus for the animals that are really cute, and I’m undecided about the choice to play things out on screen which is only mentioned as having happened in the book.

It ain’t half bad, but it ain’t half good either.

What it does mean, however, is that I now really want to see the version I’m used to, because even though I’ve not seen it since I was about 12, I do remember it being a lot more memorable than this. Still, not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon!

3 out of 5 crutches.

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