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Film / The Secret Garden (1993)

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Colin: Are you making this Magic?
Mary: No. You are.

The Secret Garden is a 1993 film based on the novel The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It is directed by Agnieszka Holland, and stars Kate Maberly as Mary Lennox and Maggie Smith as Mrs. Medlock.

Possibly the best known of the film adaptations (except for perhaps the 1949 version), it makes a couple of changes that are often mistaken for book canon; Mary's parents dying in an earthquake rather than cholera, her aunt being related to her mother rather than father, and Medlock being more antagonistic. It was a significant hit at the time, getting Maggie Smith a BAFTA nomination and winning praise for its cinematography (done by the legendary Roger Deakins). It was also praised for tackling darker themes such as death, Parental Abandonment and depression in a child-friendly way. It is Kate Maberly's best known role.

Despite following a few years later, the original sequel Back to the Secret Garden (starring Camilla Belle) is actually a follow-up to the 1987 Hallmark miniseries rather than this film.

The Secret Garden contains examples of:

  • Adaptation Dye-Job: Mary is a blonde in the books, but changed to a brunette in the movie (though her younger self in a dream sequence is blonde, so presumably it darkened as she got older). So are her mother and aunt (who were twin sisters in this adaptation of the story) so as to highlight the resemblance between the three of them.
  • Adaptation Personality Change:
    • Mrs. Medlock is haughtier and more antagonistic in the film than in the novel. Although, late in the film, she does show remorse for her behaviour, AND it is obvious that she thinks she's doing what is right.
    • Martha is more blunt and has no problem calling Mary out for her brattiness in the book - Mary quickly realising that she won't be able to boss Martha around like her Indian servants. In this film she's far more nervous and bumbling, still helping to dress Mary (as opposed to making her do it herself in the book).
  • Adapted Out: Mrs. Susan Sowerby, the mother of Martha and Dickon, is absent from this film despite being a significant character in the book. Though she does get a brief mention when Martha presents Mary with a skipping rope, saying her mother had sent it to Mary as a gift.
  • Alone Among Families: When Mary's number is called at the docks, no one comes forward to claim her. She's then told to step aside and wait while the other children orphaned by the earthquake are greeted by loving relatives, and it's well past dark when someone finally comes to take her home.
  • Always Identical Twins: Mary's mother and Colin's mother are identical twins, played by a single actress.
  • Anti-Villain: Mrs Medlock is antagonistic and horrible to Mary in particular. But the majority of it is out of a desire to keep Colin alive. She's genuinely happy when she sees him walking at the end.
  • Asshole Victim: Mary's parents spoil themselves senseless in their wealth, never once acknowledging their daughter who is distressed at their total lack of affection. They die a short time later in the earthquake just before another evening of senseless indulgence.
  • Book Ends: Mary mentions in her opening narration that she didn't know how to cry. At the end of the film her closing narration says that her uncle learned to laugh and she learned to cry.
  • Break the Haughty: Mrs. Medlock, after Archibald Craven furiously tells her off near the end. Not only does she break down in a sobbing heap on the steps, but she offers to resign as well.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Mary does this by proxy, telling Lord Craven that Colin felt he wasn't wanted.
  • The Caretaker: Mrs. Medlock takes it to a Knight Templar extreme.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Early in the film Mary leaves her room by way of a secret passage behind a tapestry. She uses the same passage to escape the room when Medlock locks her in.
  • The Comically Serious: Mary at the beginning. Particularly with jolly Yorkshire maid Martha as a contrast.
    Martha: [playfully pulls Mary's hat down over her eyes] There you are, Miss Mary!
    Mary: [teeth clenched] I can't. See.
  • Compressed Adaptation: The film takes every event from the first half or so of the book (taking place over months) and jams them all together to take place in a matter of days or weeks, removing some character depth and growth in the process. Of course, this being a film, the time line is a bit fuzzy.
  • Costume Porn: Used at the start to show the wealth of Mary's parents. The costumes are so detailed that you can make out the ML initials stitched into Mary's stockings in the opening credits.
  • Culturally Sensitive Adaptation: Downplayed. It keeps Mary being offended at being mistaken for black (before she was seen) but it deletes the part where Martha says, "There are a lot of blacks [in India] instead of respectable white people" and replaces it with her saying, "I have nothing against natives" when Mary throws her tantrum. Likewise, it still has Colin proposing to Mary, but it adds in Mary being grossed out by this.
  • Dies Differently in Adaptation: Mary's parents died in a cholera epidemic in the book. In this film, it's changed to a more sudden death in an earthquake.
  • Ethereal White Dress:
    • Mary's dead mother wears white in a Dream Sequence - where she's more mysterious than her aloof persona had implied.
    • Mary herself wanders around the house in her white nightgown. When she meets Colin, he thinks she's a ghost.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change:
    • In the opening sequence in India, Mary's hair is elaborately styled and curled. After her parents' death it is worn lank and unkempt. As she defrosts, it's styled a bit more (though not to the extent of how it was at the start).
    • Lord Craven has long Messy Hair in the present. When we see a photograph of his younger self - happy with Lilias - his hair is short.
  • Fire Means Chaos: During the earthquake which kills Mary's parents (as opposed to cholera in the book), the tension is heightened when a fire starts mere feet away from where Mary is hiding under their bed.
  • Funny Background Event: When the children are dancing and chanting around the fire, the gardener Ben is attempting to dance with them.
  • Good Twin: With Mary's mother and Lilias becoming twins, the latter was the good one - Lord Craven loved her dearly and the servants speak highly of her even ten years after her death. This is in contrast to Mary's mother, who was neglectful and aloof.
  • Graceful Ladies Like Purple: Mary wears a purple gown at the start when she's a pampered privileged girl.
  • Hands-On Approach: Dickon uses this method to show Mary how to plant seeds.
  • Happily Married: For all their faults, Mary's parents at least appeared to be genuinely happy together. And of course Lord Archibald Craven and his wife, whom he is still mourning ten years after her death.
  • Hypocrite: Medlock reacts with shock that Mary can't dress herself and scoffs that she's not independent at her age, yet she smothers Colin. Of course, her behavior could be justified in that she believes Colin to be incapable of looking after himself the way healthy children like Mary ought to be able to.
  • Important Hair Accessory: After discovering the garden, Mary starts wearing ribbons in her hair.
  • Ironic Echo:
    • When Mary first arrives in London, the other children mockingly sing "Mary Mary, quite contrary..." to her. Later in the film after she and Dickon have bonded, he sings part of the song. Mary sings along with a sort of grudging happiness.
    • Mary first meets Colin when she wanders into his room in the middle of the night, and he asks "Are you a ghost?" After Colin learns to walk, he makes his way to Mary's room in the middle of the night and she greets him with the same question.
  • Irony: The same irony from the book but with a different context. Mary's parents not allowing her to go to their parties saved her life; she was hiding in their room upstairs, safely under the bed when the earthquake hit.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Medlock freaking out when she sees that Colin's legs are all red and swollen. As she still believes he can't walk, she has good reason to assume they're from an illness or something.
  • Kissing Cousins: Colin says that he and Mary should get married when they grow up, and she points out that they can't because they're cousins. Back then, marriage between cousins wasn't seen as odd, but was Values Dissonance by the time the film was made. It becomes weirder the moment you realize that their mothers were not simply sisters but identical twins, making Mary and Colin half-siblings rather than cousins on a genetic level. Which, of course, they themselves could not have known considering the time they lived in.
  • Letting Her Hair Down: Inverted with Mary. She wears her hair down completely when she's in her Ice Queen phase. As she defrosts, she is seen with her hair in Girlish Pigtails or tied up with ribbons.
  • Love Triangle: Teased in a scene where Mary and Dickon sit on the swing together, looking into each other's eyes. Colin sees this and gets very annoyed.
  • Missing Mom: While both Mary's parents are dead, she tends to think of her mother more often than her father. This aspect is played way up for both Colin and Mary, and is a big part of how they bond.
  • Mythology Gag: A nightmare scene that shows a young Mary has the girl with fair hair - a nod to Mary being blonde in the book.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Martha has a massive one when she finds Mary hiding in Colin's room, and another when she sees that Mary isn't wearing a mask.
    • Later, news that Lord Craven has unexpectedly returned to the manor sends Mrs. Medlock into a panic.
  • Oop North: As befitting the film's Yorkshire setting, both Martha and Dickon speak with thick northern accents (both their actors were from Yorkshire). Maggie Smith puts on a slightly posher one to reflect Medlock's authority in the household. Colin doesn't have one, presumably because an upper class boy would be expected to speak in RP (as Lord Craven does).
  • Orphan's Plot Trinket: Mary keeps the ivory elephant that her mother kept on her dresser, which Mary partially broke the night her parents died. She finds out that her aunt had an identical one, leading to the discovery that they were twins.
  • Parental Abandonment: Mary's wealthy parents both die in an earthquake in India in the beginning of the movie. Mary does not initially feel bad about it, however, as her parents were neglectful and uncaring towards her while they were alive. It is even mentioned by a background character that Mary did not cry when her parents died.
  • Pet the Dog: A confrontation between Mary and Mrs. Medlock culminates in Medlock slapping Martha and threatening to fire her for letting Mary wander into Colin's room. This does not sit well with Colin. Not only does he visibly recoil with an expression of shock when Martha is slapped, he flat-out tells Mrs. Medlock that he will have her sent away if she dares dismiss the servant girl. He then orders Medlock out of the room.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: Impressively done by Lord Craven when he returns to see Colin and it's discovered the boy isn't in his room
    "Where's. My. SON?!"
  • Related in the Adaptation: In this film, Mary's mother and Colin's mother were twin sisters; in the novel, Colin's mother was the sister of Mary's father.
  • Sarcasm-Blind:
    • When Martha first meets Mary, she shows off the selection of black dresses and asks which colour she'd like. Mary doesn't get the joke.
    "Are you blind? They're all black."
    • Mary and Martha again. The latter puts a jumper over Mary that covers her face, and when she pulls it down...
    Martha: There you are, Miss Mary. I wondered where you'd gone.
    Mary: You knew perfectly well where I was!
  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: Mary alludes to this in a rather brilliant Children Are Innocent way when talking about how everyone believes Colin will die in her own contrarian way.
    "If everyone kept telling me I was going to die, then I wouldn't do it."
  • Seasonal Motif: It's winter when Mary first arrives at Misselthwaite. The growth of the garden and Colin's Character Development happen in the spring, and the reconciliation between father and son happens in the summer.
  • Ship Tease: Subtly so between Mary and Dickon. At one point they share a Held Gaze, to the point Colin gets jealous and shouts at them to avert their attention.
  • Shout-Out: Martha remarks that sometimes the wind on the moors makes it sound like someone's crying.
  • Significant Wardrobe Shift: Mary's first dress once she arrives in Misselthwaite Manor is black (in fact, all the dresses in her wardrobe are black as she is officially in mourning at this point). Throughout the movie, her dresses become progressively lighter coloured (even if a couple of them are checked or otherwise patterned), until by the final scenes, Mary is dressed completely in white, symbolising the completion of her transformation. Some of this is enforced by her uncle, who finds black too much for a child to wear.
  • Unable to Cry: Mary is this way after being neglected by her birth parents. Part of her Character Development is learning how.
    Mary: [voiceover] I was angry, but I didn't cry. I didn't know how to cry.
  • Wouldn't Hurt a Child: While Mrs. Medlock certainly threatens to box Mary's ears, she never actually strikes her. She slaps Martha, but she's old enough to not be considered a child.