The Secret Garden (2020)
By Stefan Pape,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Adaptation has positive themes but falls short on magic.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
May inspire kids to read Frances Hodgson Burnett's original book. Kids might pick up a little bit about plants and lessons on compassion, friendship, and determination.
At its core, movie is about overcoming grief, realizing there's more to life after losing loved ones. Friendship plays a key role, helping characters find hope and happiness, understanding importance of teamwork. Characters connect with the great outdoors, become at one with nature. The young characters show curiosity to learn and explore, using imagination to glorious effect. Determination is valued, as is honesty. Promotes value of getting out into nature.
Positive Role Models
Mary arrives at her uncle's house stubborn and close-minded. But over time she learns to treat everyone as equals. She finds confidence to make friends and find joy after painful past that includes her parents' death. She also helps give Colin -- who's bed- and wheelchair-bound -- courage to leave his bedroom and visit the world. Her uncle, Archibald Craven, is at first withdrawn, hostile. But he eventually learns from the children, thrives off their blissful outlook, helping him move on from his wife's death. This version brings some diversity to Mary's world in Martha and Dickon (in previous adaptations, all characters have been White).
Violence & Scariness
References to death of parents and spouse. There's a major house fire: Characters escape unharmed, but it's distressing and perilous. Children have a fight that results in them falling down a hill. In a dream sequence, a character hears gunfire, alluding to a painful past. A dog gets caught in a trap, suffers a bleeding leg. Fruit is thrown at someone's head. Arguments.
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Mean language is used between children -- causing feelings to get hurt -- but no profanity.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
One character finishes a glass of whiskey, evidently to ease his pain after his spouse's death. It's suggested that this is a coping mechanism relied on frequently.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Secret Garden is based on Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic children's novel. It has moments of mild peril but essentially deals with grief in a positive manner. It's very much a coming-of-age tale, as young orphan Mary Lennox (Dixie Egerickx) must adapt to a new culture and learn vital life skills, including compassion, following the death of her parents. She achieves this through a combination of friendship, curiosity, and imagination. Her new optimism also inspires her widowed uncle, Lord Archibald Craven (Colin Firth) -- who, it's suggested, drinks to relieve the pain of losing his wife. Mary suffers from nightmares and hears gunfire in her sleep, suggesting she witnessed violence while growing up in colonial India. A dog is in distress after being caught in an animal trap, resulting in a bleeding leg and a limp. There's also a major house fire, and while nobody is injured, it's tense and nerve-wracking as the characters struggle to escape. Overall, this adaptation has positive messages about the power of curiosity and imagination and could help inspire a love of nature.
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The Secret Garden (2020)
Based on 15 parent reviews
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A real disappointment
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What's the Story?
THE SECRET GARDEN tells the story of young orphan Mary Lennox (Dixie Egerickx), who's sent to live with her uncle, Lord Archibald Craven (Colin Firth), who's still mourning his late wife years after her death. Stuck indoors with housekeeper Mrs. Medlock (Julie Walters), Mary finds solace in her uncle's enchanting estate and becomes enamored with the magical secret garden she finds hidden in the grounds.
Is It Any Good?
This is an accomplished turn by director Marc Munden, and it has an indelible charm despite delving into heavy themes like grief. With children at the forefront, The Secret Garden encourages adult viewers to get back in touch with their childlike wonder. But for a film all about imagination, it's hard not to wish it offered a little bit more.
There's some enchantment, certainly, but the movie lacks a certain spark. It actually works better as a more profound study of grief -- particularly in children who are trying to make sense of losing a parent. This is where the film excels, and it's helped along by exciting performances from the young cast, especially Egerickx, who's fantastic as Mary. (On the other hand, there isn't enough of Julie Walters. But then, there's never really enough of Julie Walters.) Devoted fans of the book -- of whom there are many -- will notice significant differences between it and this adaptation, most notably in the fantastical way the garden itself is portrayed (in the book, it's very much a standard, if special, garden) and in Mary and Colin's mothers' relationship. Those who aren't as familiar with the original story may be more likely to enjoy the movie for what it is, not what it isn't.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about how The Secret Garden tackles grief. How do both Mary and her uncle start to overcome their own grief? Have you lost anyone? How did it make you feel? Get tips on talking to kids about difficult subjects.
Mary moves to a new country and must make friends in a new setting. Have you ever experienced anything similar? What can you learn from Mary's experiences that you could use if you have to do something similar? What character strengths does she display?
Much of the story is set outdoors in the garden. What are the benefits of spending time outdoors when possible and connecting to the world around us?
The characters use their imagination to "travel" to other places. Can you give any examples of when you and your friends have used your imagination creatively?
What differences did you notice between the book and the movie? What was changed? What did you miss? How does this version of the story compare to previous movie adaptations?
- On DVD or streaming: September 22, 2020
- Cast: Dixie Egerickx, Colin Firth, Julie Walters
- Director: Marc Munden
- Studio: STX Entertainment
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Book Characters, Friendship, Science and Nature
- Character Strengths: Compassion, Curiosity, Teamwork
- Run time: 106 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements and some mild peril
- Last updated: May 16, 2023
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