Welcome to my Bonus Double Feature! Just to let you know, there will be spoilers within this post. If you want to read the introduction, here’s the link:
- In what way is the adaptation like the book?
1949: There were several similarities to the book in the 1949 adaptation of The Secret Garden. One of them was the incorporation of the wind. In the book, the sounds of Colin’s cries blend with the sounds of the wind. Mary quickly picks out the cries from the wind and notices that something isn’t right. In the movie, this aspect sounded just like how it was described in the book. If one wasn’t paying attention, they would assume that the cries were a part of the wind. The other element was the path to Colin’s room. Mary, in the book, enters different rooms and passageways in order to find the source of the crying. In the movie, when Mary attempts to find out where the crying comes from, she travels through various rooms and hallways, which take her to Colin’s bedroom door. While this trip takes place in a shorter amount of time, the visuals of the different places in the house shows just how intertwined Misselthwaite Manor really is.
1987: More similarities were found in this adaptation than in the 1949 version. The one that I was pleasantly surprised by was Mary’s characteristics. Despite Gennie James’ inability to carry a British accent, she made up for this by embodying the spirit and persona of her character. Through her emotions, actions, and behavior, Gennie brought the likability and unlikability that Mary Lennox is known for. Two examples are when Mary was more upset about losing her doll over her parents and when she became friends with the robin. While we’re on the subject of this friendship, Mary forms a relationship with a robin that is also very fond of Ben Weatherstaff. By befriending the robin, in both the book and movie, Mary’s transformation from self-centered child to selfless individual begins. As for the character transformations, they were developed very well in the source material and the adaptation. Even though the movie was drawn out, it showed that the transformations of characters like Mary, Colin, and Mr. Craven happened over the course of several months. It also showed that these transformations take time and patience.
1993: Similar to the 1987 film, the characteristics of Mary are pretty close to how the character was written in the book. But in this adaptation, the characteristics of almost all the characters seemed like it reflected the book very well. In the 1993 movie, Kate Maberly’s performance was the best portrayal of Mary Lennox! Not only was she able to carry a British accent throughout the entire film, but she also did a really good job at bringing a balance of emotions to her role. During the scene where Martha accidently offends Mary, the angry emotions that Kate brought to her character reminded me of how the character would have behaved in the book. Another good example is when Dickon and Mary are in the secret garden, while they are singing “Mistress Mary Quite Contrary”. Even though she’s happy to be spending time with Dickon, she’s reminded of the painful memories when she arrived in England. Speaking of Dickon, Andrew Knott’s portrayal of this character was the best out of all three adaptations I’ve seen! He did a fantastic job pulling off a Yorkshire accent and brought a sense of likability to his role. The scene where Dickon and Mary meet for the first time is a good example of this.
As I just mentioned, Dickon and Mary sing “Mistress Mary Quite Contrary” in the 1993 movie. This song plays a small role in the book. At the beginning of the story, the song is sung to Mary in a manner of teasing. When the story goes on, she reflects on the song’s meaning and questions her outlook on life. Another aspect of the movie that reflected the book was the interior designs of Misselthwaite Manor. Mary’s and Colin’s room are a great example, as tapestry can be seen on the walls. This is an important detail to mention because tapestry was described in the novel.
- Was there anything in the adaptation that was different from the book?
1949: In the 1949 adaptation, there were just as many differences from the book as there were similarities. One notable difference is how emotional Mary Lennox is. In the film, Mary bursts into tears when she finds out that her parents have died. This is not the reaction that Mary has in the book, as she wouldn’t care what happens to her parents because of her poor relationship with them. Speaking of relationships, Mary’s relationship with Ben Weatherstaff is quite different in the film. Mary, as well as Colin and Dickon, don’t like Ben. They not only keep their distance from him, but they also don’t allow him to enter their garden. In the book, however, Ben becomes the children’s ally. He provides them with plenty of information about the secret garden, such as why it’s closed off from the rest of the gardens. The children even invite him into the garden on a few occasions. Finally, how Mary and Dickon meet is also different in the movie. Mary meets Dickon before she’s even aware that a secret garden exists. In the book, Mary meets Dickon after she’s entered the secret garden. She meets him because he’s purchased some flower seeds for her.
1987: While watching this adaptation of The Secret Garden, I noticed fewer differences compared to the 1949 version. Like the 1949 film, the initial meeting of Mary and Dickon happens at a different part of the story. In this movie, Mary meets Dickon before she’s found the secret garden, yet she is aware that it exists. At the beginning and end of the movie, the audience sees that the story is told through the reflections of a grown-up Mary Lennox. Since the book only focused on Mary’s story from when she was a child, this was a creative choice that Hallmark Hall of Fame made. Unlike the book, Mary and Colin are not cousins. I’m not going to reveal the reason for this creative decision because I don’t want to spoil the movie for anyone who hasn’t seen this version. But this choice wasn’t as much of an issue as I thought it could be. Plus, it works within this particular story!
1993: Toward the beginning of the film, Mary loses her parents to an earthquake. This is different from the book, as she loses her parents to sickness. The location of the secret garden’s key is also different from the source material. In the movie, Mary finds this key in her aunt’s jewelry box instead of in the dirt. Another difference I noticed was the characteristics of Mrs. Medlock. This character, in the book, was stern but caring. Mrs. Medlock, in the movie, was much stricter. She’s not only against the idea of Mary and Colin spending time together, but she’s also mean to the other members of the staff. I’m not sure if this creative decision was made to include a conflict or to highlight the acting strengths of Maggie Smith.
- Did you find anything in the movie that you felt improved upon the material more than the book?
1949: While the majority of the film is presented in black-and-white, the only scenes that were featured in color were those that took place in the garden. Frances Hodgson Burnett was very descriptive when writing about the garden. But you can only describe so much without giving someone a visual. The way the garden is presented in this adaptation helps bring the text to life.
1987: In a few parts of the film, the element of suspense was incorporated. One good example was when Mary meets Colin for the first time. The build-up to that moment was staged really well, using as little lighting as possible and featuring things like lightening and scary looking statues. Because of these elements coming together, it was better executed in the movie than in the book.
1993: During the 1993 adaptation, a transition happens between winter and spring/summer. This transition isn’t just seen through the exterior background. The cinematography and color of wardrobe are other visuals that indicate the changing seasons. An explanation of how Mary and Colin are related is included in this script. According to this adaptation, Mary’s mother was the twin sister of Colin’s mother. No explanations to how Mary and Colin are related were given in the book. All that’s known is that they’re cousins and Mr. Craven is Mary’s uncle.
- Is there anything from the book that improved upon the material more than the movie?
1949: In the book, the garden itself is written as if it were its own character. Because of this, the garden creates a ripple effect on the characters and their lives. In the movie, however, the garden is treated like a Macguffin. It’s not featured in the film for very long and the progression of the characters happens pretty quickly. We also don’t see the process of the garden’s revival.
1987: When I was thinking about this Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation, I found it difficult to find anything that the book did better than the movie. This is because the adaptation was pretty close to the source material. It gives people who have read the book, like myself, a reason to find it satisfying.
1993: Even though she plays a really small role in the book, Susan Sowerby, Martha and Dickon’s mom, shares her wisdom and advice throughout the story. These things have a small, but significant influence over the events of the plot. Because Susan was nowhere to be found in this film, this part of the story was eliminated from the script.
- Because each adaptation was released in a different decade, do you feel that the movie itself was affected by the time period in which it was released? If so, how?
1949: MGM’s The Wizard of Oz was one of the first movies to experiment with color imaging. Since the movie was a success for the studio, they were more than willing to incorporate color imaging into their future films. The Secret Garden was released ten years after The Wizard of Oz, so it makes sense that they reserved the color imaging for the titular secret garden. What’s interesting is how little color imaging is included in the movie. It’s only seen on three occasions, after the garden has been fully revived.
1987: There’s three key things that I think had an influence on this version of The Secret Garden. The first is the 1949 movie. Because this particular film had an equal amount of similarities and differences, it encouraged the creative team behind the Hallmark Hall of Fame project to make a more faithful adaptation. The second key ingredient was the trend where content in ‘80s children’s/family-friendly entertainment was darker and “creepier”. Since Hallmark Hall of Fame’s The Secret Garden was released in 1987, it provided an alternative for those who wanted to move away from the aforementioned trend. The last thing is the concept of home entertainment and video rental stores. One of the most well-known video rental businesses, Blockbuster, opened its doors in 1985, just two years before Hallmark Hall of Fame’s adaptation was released. Since then, the idea of renting or purchasing films has played a huge role in the world of cinema. I’m not sure when Hallmark starting allowing their movies to be sold for home entertainment. But their version of The Secret Garden has been available on VHS and DVD.
1993: Two important aspects affected the creation of this specific adaptation. The first one is the previous adaptations of The Secret Garden. This particular version of the story was the first theatrical adaptation since the 1949 film. The Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation was close enough to the source material where readers would be satisfied. Taking these films into consideration, the creative team behind the 1993 movie tried to make a movie that felt cinematic and respected the source material. The second thing is the climate that existed in children’s/family-friendly entertainment in the early ‘90s. During this time, the Disney Renaissance was in the early stages. The box office was also receiving films with Don Bluth’s signature animation style. In the live-action department, films like My Girl and Beethoven were released from their respective studios. The early ‘90s provided variety to children’s/family-friendly entertainment. Since this version of The Secret Garden was released in 1993, the film contributed to the aforementioned climate.
- If an adaptation of The Secret Garden were made today, how would it be different from the other adaptations?
I think that if The Secret Garden received another adaptation, that film’s creative team would probably try to have the story take place in “modern” times. If this decision were made, the simplistic nature that comes from a historical fiction narrative would be taken away. Another possible change would be the incorporation of an environmental message. This would be unnecessary because the purpose of the secret garden has nothing to do the environment. The garden is included in the story to present the idea of becoming a better person when putting the needs of others before one’s own.
- What aspect from the movie or book do you think has stood the test of time?
The messages and themes within this story have been relatable and cherished for many years. As I already mentioned, one idea that can be found in both the source material and any adaptation is how putting the needs of others before one’s own can help someone become a better person. Because the protagonist of this story is a child, the narrative evokes reflection on a time when a person’s life could be care-free. It also reminds the audience of how anything is possible when we set our minds on something.
Have fun at the movies!