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The Secret Garden (1987)

Movie review by
Tom Cassidy, Common Sense Media
The Secret Garden (1987) Movie Poster Image
Friendship and teamwork shine in classic book adaptation.
  • PG
  • 1987
  • 100 minutes

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We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

Those that haven't yet read the book may be encouraged to do so.

Positive Messages

Friendship and nature are key themes, helping characters think of others and become less selfish. Characters display compassion, curiosity, and teamwork.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Initially Mary comes across as spoiled and feisty, but as she develops friendships and a sense of purpose she begins to soften. Colin shows determination in overcoming his own issues.

Violence & Scariness

Following a cholera outbreak, dead bodies are seen in bed. Two characters are shown with boils and gasping for breath -- their death occurs offscreen. A child is bed-bound for a time. During a lighthearted argument a character threatens to smother another with a pillow. Some scenes set at night feel spooky.

Sexy Stuff
Language

Unwell character is called "cripple boy" and "dimwit."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters drink wine at a dinner party. Child sneaks a drink of wine and feels unwell.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Secret Garden (1987) is an uplifting TV movie based on the classic 1911 children's novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett with themes of friendship and curiosity. The death of parents is a large part of the plot -- Mary's (Gennie James) parents are shown dying from cholera, although their actual death occurs offscreen. The cholera outbreak -- which occurs in the first 10 minutes -- also depicts some dead bodies. It is a story of hope, however. Both Mary and Colin (Jadrien Steele) overcome issues caused by their upbringings through perseverance and teamwork. Though there is no profanity, bed-bound Colin is referred to as "cripple boy" and "dimwit." Some of the night scenes have a spooky feel.

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What's the story?

At the start of THE SECRET GARDEN, Mary Lennox (Gennie James) is spoiled by servants and neglected by her parents in colonial India. But when her parents die, she is sent to live in an English stately home. There she finds a secret garden that soon brings out the best in Mary and those around her, including a bed-bound boy called Colin (Jadrien Steele).

Is it any good?

This 1987 made-for-TV version of The Secret Garden is a delightful adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett's timeless children's book. Despite some small screen trappings such as hokey British accents from the young cast and obvious ad-break edits, its sharp script and stellar performances give the movie a timeless quality. Its uplifting message of hope radiates throughout.

Young stars James and Steele work brilliantly together and are supported by British screen veterans Billie Whitelaw, Derek Jacobi, and Michael HordenColin Firth, who stars in a 2020 remake of the movie, also appears in one of his first roles. The cast are given great dialogue and deliver it with relish. The movie wonderfully celebrates curiosity, friendship, and the ability to change, but never labors the point, instead breezing along effortlessly.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about friendship in The Secret Garden (1987). How did sharing their problems with each other help Mary and Colin overcome their issues? Discuss how working with others can give a fresh perspective.

  • Lots of adults lied to Mary about the moaning in the house because they had been told to keep Colin secret. Talk about whether Mary was right to follow her curiosity and question authority.

  • Mary changes for the better when she dedicates her time to improving the garden. Discuss the benefits of spending time outdoors and the feeling of having a purpose.

  • How does this adaptation compare to the book? What are your likes and dislikes about movies based on books?

Movie details

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