(director: Agnieszka Holland; screenwriters: Caroline Thompson/based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett; cinematographer: Roger Deakins; editor: Isabelle Lorente; music: Zbigniew Preisner; cast: Kate Maberly (Mary Lennox), Heydon Prowse (Colin Craven), Andrew Knott (Dickon), Maggie Smith (Mrs. Medlock), John Lynch (Lord Archibald Craven), Laura Crossley (Martha), Walter Sparrow (Ben Weatherstaff); Runtime: 102; MPAA Rating: G; producer: Fred Fuchs/Tom Luddy/Fred Roos; Warner Bros.; 1993-USA/UK)

“What’s truly marvelous about this Victorian fable is the wonderful performances from the child actors.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s beloved children’s classic of 1911 is written by Caroline Thompson and magically helmed in a beautiful setting by the Polish-born Agnieszka Holland (“Total Eclipse”/”The Third Miracle”/”Europa Europa”). It’s a handsome remake of Fred M. Wilcox’s 1949 Hollywood version. What’s truly marvelous about this Victorian fable is the wonderful performances from the child actors. It leaves one with the uplifting theme that happiness can be found in your own backyard, especially if you are born into wealth.

Mary Lennox (Kate Maberly) is a lonely ten-year-old whose wealthy partygoing parents are too selfish in craving their own pleasures to spend time with their daughter. When an earthquake hits the part of India they are residing as colonialists, Mary survives but her parents don’t. The orphan is sent to Misselthwaite Manor on the Yorkshire moors to live with her uncle, Lord Archibald Craven (John Lynch), a reclusive hunchback whose wife died ten years ago and he’s been despondent ever since. His wife was the twin sister of Mary’s mother. The gloomy manor is run by the no-nonsense imperious housekeeper, Mrs. Medlock (Maggie Smith), who takes an instant dislike to the curious child and gives her the cold-shoulder.

The spoilt Mary, a real sourpuss, rebels against the housekeeper’s commands to not snoop around the 100-room manor and soon befriends kindly country boy, with a feel for nature, Dickon (Andrew Knott) and her same aged spoiled, bedridden sickly cousin Colin (Heydon Prowse), who never left his room and all the windows are nailed shut because it’s thought fresh air would kill him. The trio trespass in Colin’s mother’s secret garden that Lord Archibald Craven kept locked and would not let anyone enter since her death. The playful company of Mary and Dickon and the beautiful garden with robins turn into a recuperative influence for Colin, as Mary states: “You can see the whole world in a garden.”

Kate Maberly is just terrific as the pouty girl you can’t dislike despite her snooty attitude, who brings her uncle back together with his son and makes the meanie Mrs. Medlock look bad for making a cripple out of Colin when he’s really a healthy lad who has been mistreated with unneeded health precautions. In the process, the damaged girl also blossoms into a healthier and nicer child. It’s the kind of children’s pic that even adults can relish.