In need of cheering up? Well, it may have escaped your attention that book adaptation The Secret Garden arrives in Cineworld this year. Here's everything you need to know.
1. It's based on the classic novel
First published as a book in 1911, author Frances Hodgson Burnett's story has captivated generations of families. It's the story of repressed child Mary Lennox, who is uprooted from India following the death of her parents, and sent to live at the forbidding Mistlethwaite Manor in Yorkshire. She's under the stewardship of her reclusive and troubled Uncle Craven, but when Mary discovers a secret garden directly connected to the family's past, she unlocks emotional truths that have a profound impact on everybody.
Given the book's status as a masterpiece of literature, it's little wonder it's been adapted for the stage and screen multiple times. The first movie dates back to the silent era in 1919, and in 1949, we got a movie starring Margaret O'Brien, which alternated black and white cinematography with TechniColor scenes set in the garden.
Perhaps the most famous take on the story is the 1993 movie, directed by Agnieszka Holland and produced by The Godfather's Francis Ford Coppola through his American Zoetrope company. This acclaimed and atmospheric adaptation showcases the cinematography of Oscar-winning 1917 cinematographer Roger Deakins, with the excellent ensemble led by newcomer Kate Maberley as Mary. The show is, however, stolen, by Maggie Smith as the severe housekeeper Mrs. Medlock, whose attempt at keeping her own emotions under control has a deeply moving payoff.
2. It's from the producer of Harry Potter and Paddington
That would be David Heyman, who as his reputation suggests, is no stranger to family blockbusters. (On a decidedly more grown-up note, he also produced Quentin Tarantino's controversial Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.) The Potter franchise is one of the most successful in cinema history, and as its central characters, drawn from J.K. Rowling's pen, advanced from childhood to adolescence, Heyman's steady hand acted as the guiding light.
Likewise, the two Paddington movies emerged as delightful surprises, staying true to author Michael Bond's humour while offering some pleasingly tangy modern updates. It helped that the cast members were excellently chosen: Ben Whishaw as the voice of Paddington, and Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins as Mr and Mrs Brown, to name but three. Paddington 2 is among the highest-rated movies on reviews aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, and, like its predecessor, was also a box office hit.
Need we say more about why The Secret Garden is in good hands?
3. It's got an excellent cast of established stars and newcomers
Just as the 1993 adaptation showcased some fine child performances, the 2020 version is poised to do the same. Dixie Egerickx is Mary, who's joined by Amir Wilson (His Dark Materials, more on which momentarily), as the kindly Dickon and Edan Hayhurst as Mary's ill cousin Colin, who's been locked away inside Mistlethwaite.
Complementing these rising stars are two reliable screen veterans: The King's Speech Oscar-winner Colin Firth as Uncle Archibald Craven, and Mamma Mia's Julie Walters as Mrs. Medlock. We all know that Firth can do tormented and insular very well (just look at the likes of The Railway Man, or The Mercy), and Walters' dramatic abilities often get overlooked in light of her comic performances. Her role as the tough-talking dance teacher in Billy Elliott is one such example, and coincidentally that movie celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.
4. It's from His Dark Materials writer Jack Thorne
Not only do we have a Harry Potter connection in the form of David Heyman. The Secret Garden's screenwriter Jack Thorne has also made a splash in Harry's universe, having created (alongside J.K. Rowling) the smash-hit stage production Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The narrative picks up with Harry's son Albus, and has become an established fixture on the West End circuit and also Broadway. The show, in two parts, has won multiple Tony and Olivier Awards, and has been praised for its continuation of the Potter mythology.
Thorne scored another critical hit with the recent BBC adaptation of His Dark Materials. The dense and rich nature of Philip Pullman's source novel, The Golden Compass, already tripped up Hollywood with the critically derided 2007 movie. However, Thorne's take was lauded for its faithfulness to the source, and its understanding of the complex spiritual undercurrents that fuel the journey of hero Lyra Belacqua (Dafne Keen). Little wonder that a second series, based on the next novel The Subtle Knife, has already been commissioned and filmed.
It would certainly appear that The Secret Garden is in very good hands.
5. It's the movie we need right now
We understand there's a lot of pessimism and gloom around at the moment, so why not escape into a movie that celebrates love, family and the sweeping British countryside? As with the novel and the 1993 movie, this new version looks to be in love with nature and the magical changing of the seasons, which mirrors the steady emotional awakening of the characters.
The 2020 film has been shot by director Mark Munden in a variety of sumptuous UK locations, including Hemsley Walled Garden in Yorkshire and Iford Manor Gardens in Bath. It's set to be a feast for the senses and the emotions.