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The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden (1993)

tomatometer

76

Average Rating: 7.5/10
Critic Reviews: 17
Fresh: 13 | Rotten: 4

No consensus yet.

audience

80

liked it
Average Rating: 3.3/5
User Ratings: 194,271

My Rating

Movie Info

The 1993 remake of The Secret Garden is a rendition of the classic Frances Hodgon Burnett novel about a young girl (Kate Maberly) who discovers an abandoned garden on her uncle's large Victorian country estate, as well as an invalid cousin she didn't realize she had. With the help of a local boy, the girl sets out to restore the garden and, once it is blooming again, she discovers it has magical powers. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

G,

Drama, Kids & Family

Jan 1, 2000

WARNER BROTHERS PICTURES

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All Critics (40) | Top Critics (17) | Fresh (34) | Rotten (6) | DVD (5)

The result is an instant classic -- rich, dense, resonant, powerful.

August 1, 2013
Boston Globe
Top Critic IconTop Critic

While drawing superb performances from her young leads, Holland has masterfully contrasted the garden -- a place where melodic robins seem almost conversant -- with the dread of Misselthwaite.

August 1, 2013 Full Review Source: Seattle Times
Seattle Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The movie's dark themes, unhurried pace and talkiness make it something of a gamble for many children. But older children -- especially those who have been asking specific questions about death -- may find some nourishment in this garden.

August 1, 2013 Full Review Source: Orlando Sentinel
Orlando Sentinel
Top Critic IconTop Critic

This enchanted tale vividly shows how love heals and nurtures barren souls, makes them flourish like abundant Edens.

August 1, 2013 Full Review Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
Philadelphia Inquirer
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Rather than a fresh breeze, it's the stale air of gilded calculation, the uncomfortable feeling that things are excessively "just so," that overhangs much that is genuinely appealing about this film.

August 1, 2013 Full Review Source: Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

It's as if the moviemakers were trying to cook up a New Age Yorkshire pudding, without meat drippings -- what's missing is Burnett's robust optimism and animistic energy.

August 1, 2013 Full Review Source: New Yorker
New Yorker
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The film retains the gothic atmosphere of the book and looks amazing, thanks to Roger Deakins's scintillating photography. Stealing the show is Maggie Smith as beastly housekeeper Mrs Medlock.

August 1, 2013 Full Review Source: Radio Times
Radio Times

That`s a more upscale marketing concept than Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but it still doesn't make the movie any good.

August 1, 2013 Full Review Source: South Florida Sun-Sentinel
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Though it can get laborious, and produces the odd unintended chuckle, The Secret Garden is charming and sometimes chillingly authentic.

August 1, 2013 Full Review Source: TV Guide's Movie Guide
TV Guide's Movie Guide

Any kids' movie that aims for something richer than the Saturday-matinee escapism of smiling whales and preschool ninjas -- that actually captures some of the mystery of childhood -- ought to be embraced. whatever its peculiarities.

August 1, 2013 Full Review Source: People Magazine
People Magazine

The film is not as enchanting as it should be.

August 1, 2013 Full Review Source: Empire Magazine
Empire Magazine

This lavish treatment originated from Coppola's Zoetrope studio and follows their several successful films made for family audiences.

August 1, 2013 Full Review Source: Film4
Film4

An intelligently conceived and finely crafted picture with a G rating, a tag normally shunned by ambitious filmmakers because of its association with kiddie cartoons and squeaky-clean dullness.

August 1, 2013 Full Review Source: Christian Science Monitor
Christian Science Monitor

The movie enchants, with a visual texture that clearly bears the mark of executive producer Francis Ford Coppola and confirms the arrival of Oscar-nominated Polish director Agnieszka Holland.

August 1, 2013 Full Review Source: Baltimore Sun
Baltimore Sun

Great book, great adaptation.

December 29, 2010 Full Review Source: Common Sense Media
Common Sense Media

What's truly marvelous about this Victorian fable is the wonderful performances from the child actors.

February 16, 2008 Full Review Source: Ozus' World Movie Reviews
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

Audience Reviews for The Secret Garden

When I was a kid everyone was always saying how fantastic this movie was, but I didn't think it was all that cool. It's an okay family movie, but it could be a lot better.
May 18, 2011
ajv2688

Super Reviewer

There is a long tradition in British cinema of great films being made as a collaboration between British and foreign talent. Many films which are considered classics are distinctive because of this marriage of different national and cultural outlooks: Michael Powell had Emeric Pressburger, and James Ivory had Ishmael Merchant.

It therefore makes absolute sense for The Secret Garden, a quintessentially English story by Frances Hodgson Burnett, to be scripted by a Briton but directed by a Pole. Like her contemporary Krzysztof Kieslowski, Agnieszka Holland is a director who knows how to bring out the delicate humanity of any given scene. Her sensitive approach to the material and knack for working with child actors combine beautifully, to create a masterful adaptation on a par with Shadowlands and Three Colours - Blue.

The Kieslowski comparison is not a frivolous one, since Holland collaborated with him on the screenplay for Three Colours - Blue. And while her body of work is nowhere near as powerful or consistent, she shares Kieslowski's humanist sensibility and an understanding of the subtleties of human emotion. She has the same knack for expressing complex themes through the most subtle and innocent of interactions, conveyed through visuals which are effortlessly beautiful. There is also an incidental link in the casting: Irene Jacob, who appears briefly as Mary's mother, played the central role in Three Colours - Red.

The Secret Garden is a beautiful film from whichever angle you approach it. It was shot by Roger Deakins, who would later win a BAFTA for his work on No Country for Old Men. Deakins contrasts the early, drained-out footage of the gardens, filled with pale greens and faded browns, with later lush images of what seems like the whole world in bloom. The film also includes some beautiful time-lapse footage of the garden changing from winter to spring, with flowers blooming and butterflies emerging from cocoons.

The film has a genuine sense of wonder which is tragically absent from many more contemporary children's films. This point can be illustrated perfectly by comparing The Secret Garden with the family films of Chris Columbus. Regardless of Columbus' other shortcomings as a director (of which there are many), his attempts at 'wonder' or 'fantasy' feel incredibly manufactured. The first two Harry Potter films feel like they have been test-screened to within an inch of their lives, and all the imagination has been sucked out in a bid to not offend the fans.

The Secret Garden, on the other hand, manages to be faithful to its source material without taking off any of its dark or slightly rough edges. Like all great children's films, there is a balance between joy and tragedy, and the film doesn't shy away from letting the audience share in the characters' misery. Just like James and the Giant Peach, the story starts with the parents of the central character being tragically killed (in the book it is cholera, in the film it's an earthquake). We follow Mary through the lonely aftermath as she struggles to fit into the forbidding new world that is laid before her, and as with James it takes something quite magical to bring her round.

But despite its references to Indian religion and the rather uncomfortable scene of the children 'summoning' Colin's father, the film's 'magic' is rooted firmly in Christianity. Burnett was a prominent exponent of Christian Science, a doctrine of Christianity rooted in the belief that all of God's creation (that is, all nature) is made in His image and therefore inherently good. While this proposal might seem hard to stomach, The Secret Garden does have a very prominent Christian thread running through it, which is no more threatening or disagreeable than the fiction of C. S. Lewis (hence the Shadowlands comparison).

Viewed through a Biblical prism, the garden at Misslethwaite Manor starts out as essentially Eden, with Colin's parents more or less as stand-ins for Adam and Eve. The tragic death of Colin's mother (a literal Fall, if you like) causes 'man' in the form of his father to leave the garden and barricade it up. He is shutting out all that is good because of his own guilt and shame, choosing the darkness as penance for what he believes he has done.

When Mary enters the garden, finding it overgrown and in desperate need of care, she is like Lucy when she first wanders through the wardrobe: the world is special and has signs of life, but the overall mood is one of sorrow and neglect. She rediscovers the joy of nature through her innocence and curiosity, and in discovering the 'magic' she learns to live with herself and to appreciate the good in others, rather than spurning them or treating them as servants.

From a slightly different angle, the scenes involving Colin reuniting with his father could be compared with Jesus' time in the Garden of Gethsemane - perhaps what the garden had to go through to regain its former glory. These scenes are of a father rediscovering his son having turned his face away for so long, returning to a place that once embodied death and not only finding life but being welcomed. The final conversation between Mary and Lord Craven is like the encounter between Jesus and Mary Magdalene outside the tomb: the line about Mary "bringing them back to life" may be corny, but it does convey the idea of redemption through acceptance.

But there is more to The Secret Garden than just good old-fashioned morals. The film is thoroughly entertaining, thanks to the elegant dialogue in Caroline Thompson's screenplay. The three child actors are all highly enjoyable and convincing, with Kate Maberly and Heydon Prowse showing wisdom and grace beyond their years. Maberly may spend the first half-hour constantly in a strop, but she has a Puck-like quality which keeps her character interesting. The adult performers are also entertaining, with Maggie Smith turning in a typically domineering performance as Mrs. Medlock and John Lynch holding his own as Lord Craven (even if his long hair and moustache make him unduly resemble Colin Farrell).

There are a couple of small faults with The Secret Garden. Although it does generally succeed in being charming under its own steam, it does drift into Disney convention as more animals appear. There's only so many times you can show cuddly deer before we start to feel manipulated. The ending is sentimental and a little cloying, and highlights once again the presence of unnecessary narration. It may be a children's film, but that doesn't mean you have to state the bleeding obvious at any given moment.

The Secret Garden is a very fine children's film which recalls the best work of Richard Attenborough and Lionel Jeffries. Its Christian morals are presented in a very subtle way for such a prominently allegorical work, and it is every bit as fresh and entertaining now as when first released. As a spiritual film about or involving children it is on a par with Shadowlands, and as a children's film in general it is an amiable companion to The Railway Children. The film is touching, charming and captivating in equal measure, and despite its little faults it is essential viewing.
November 29, 2010
Daniel Mumby
Daniel Mumby

Super Reviewer

For a child's film, this is beautifully done. Rich colors, amazing mansion and fantastic acting on all parts. Especially Maggie Smith, naturally.
July 2, 2010
MeetMeinMontauk
Jennifer D

Super Reviewer

The Secret Garden is a terrific film for all ages. A film with an enchanting tale, The Secret Garden is a terrific film with a great cast of young actors. What attracts you into the film is a world of classic beauty. Everything is atmospheric in this film. I myself have never read the book, but I still think that this is a terrific film with a simple, yet effective story that unfolds before us. I find it hard to hate this film because this is a film that just shows you don't need a big, complicated storyline to create a terrific film. This film along with The Sandlot will always remain classics from my childhood.
July 2, 2010
TheDudeLebowski65
Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski

Super Reviewer

    1. Mary Lennox: No one ill could scream like that!
    – Submitted by Gracie T (15 months ago)
    1. Mrs. Medlock: It's that child, my lord. She's created absolute havoc here. I've tried to control her. She must be sent away. She'll kill Master Colin.
    – Submitted by Sara T (2 years ago)
    1. Lord Craven: You brought us back to life, Mary. You did something I thought no one could do.
    – Submitted by Sara T (2 years ago)
    1. Colin Craven: Are you making this magic?
    2. Mary Lennox: No, you are.
    – Submitted by Sara T (2 years ago)
    1. Mary Lennox: Nobody wants me.
    – Submitted by Ceara R (2 years ago)
View all quotes (5)

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February 5, 2013:
Guillermo del Toro Enters The Secret Garden
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Foreign Titles

  • Der geheime Garten (DE)
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