Sunday, 29 November 2009
"If You Look The Right Way..."
"...you can see that the whole world is a garden".
It may come as something of a surprise, but this and A Little Princess are two of my favourite films. Right up there along side Requiem for A Dream, Fight Club and Natural Born Killers. I know, right? But hey, I like to be diverse. It keeps things interesting. Plus no amount of drug-indiced trippiness or ultra violence can compare with the magical memory of seeing this childhood classic blossom into life (sorry) on the big screen.
I watched it with my mum on Sunday, the day before my 23rd birthday. She actually phoned me from downstairs to tell me it was on! I don't know whether it was the age-related self pity, rosy eyed nostalgia or the fuzzy depression of a hangover, but the delights of The Secret Garden made my wee day. Basically, it's about a pinched, embittered young girl, Mary, raised in India by her neglectful parents. When they die in an earthquake she is sent to live in England with her uncle in his cold, gloomy stately home (Misslethwaite Manor). Emotionally numb, her widowed uncle frequently takes trips away and she is left in the care of his strict, unfeeling housekeeper Mrs Medlock. She discovers her bedridden cousin, Colin, a pale, sickly boy of her own age who has been kept inside wrapped in his father's smothering emotional blanket. Lonely and cast aside, Mary befriends the servant boy Dickon, with whom she discovers her aunt's equally neglected garden.
Taking solace in her "bit of dirt", she plants seeds, and learns to develop relationships with Dickon, Colin and servant girl Martha. As her heart thaws, the garden blossoms into life, and eventually, too, her uncle learns to love again. After seeing his son walking whilst playing Blind Man's Buff, he realises he has been a ghost in the present, rather than treasuring his cherished memories of his beloved wife.
It's a testament to this film that it's revered as such a classic despite only being released in 1993. Sure, it's an adaptation of a classic book, but an adaptation doesn't necessarily guarantee a good movie. The film is driven by its central characters, who are three children- and their performances are wonderful. Kate Maberly, as Mary, perfectly depicts the unloved misfit who flourishes as her garden does. Cousin Colin, a spoiled brat who's never seen the light of day, is initially quite detestable but the two find something of themselves in each other. Local lad Dickon helps tend to the garden and as their friendship blossoms, we truly root for them (sorry again...) and their garden to survive the cold, dark winter- and warm the cold, dark heart of Misslethwaite Manor.
Despite its somewhat sugary-sounding themes, the film never once veers towards easy sentimentality and begins as cold as the characters themselves. As it unfolds, it thaws with the characters, which is why I think it's so easy to engage with them. When the garden starts to bloom, it's a wonderful, magical sight, and the last scene, of Mary, her uncle and cousin skipping in circles in the garden, packs a powerful emotional punch. It still makes me well up with happy tears despite seeing it...ohh....about 39284623 times?
The look and tone of the film changes as the characters and surroundings evolve, from the cold, icy blues and greys when Mary first arrives to the pinks, purples, reds, and every other colour in between. The attention to detail is superb and really captures the mood of the film. The costumes are beautiful, as is the drapery and wall hangings around the house-visually the film is just stunning.
The Secret Garden is, for me, one of those films I can put on whenever I'm feeling kinda bluse-y and it cheers me up in an instant. It appeals to both adults and children, as did the book it is sourced from. During the hefty, endless dreary winter, watching this film still makes me feel childish... but in a good way. A good way where that reminds me that it's not forever and, with a little bit of love, anything can flourish.
(...honestly, I make myself sick sometimes. Ah, well! It's Christmastime... the one time of year it's OK to indulge in over-sentimentality. So nyah!)