The 1993 version of The Secret Garden introduced Mary Lennox, a spoilt brat who’s been given everything she thought to ask for – except her parent’s love and attention. This luxurious lifestyle is brought to a screeching halt when they die, and she’s sent to live with her uncle (the husband of her late mother’s late sister, a man she’s never met) in a dreary mansion in dreary Victorian England.
She hates it, and immediately throws a tantrum, something that’s worked before. Yeah, not this time, honey. The head housemaid has no tolerance for her, and Mary soon has to learn to fend for herself. No-one is going to coddle her, and crying is not going to help.
So she stops crying, and goes out to explore the estate’s extensive gardens. Along the way, she meets Dickon, who has no more tolerance for her tantrums then anyone else does. She responds well to this ‘fend for yourself’ atmosphere and becomes a lot nicer for it.
She also discovers her stashed-away cousin, Colin, a sickly boy who is even more of a brat then her. Colin is full of prophesies about his own death, which Mary has no tolerance for. Either he can be happy and show her respect and she will stay, or he can be a brat and order her around and she will leave. Faced with the possibility of losing the one person who was fun to be around and not afraid of him, Colin quickly becomes a much nicer person, in the same way Mary did when confronted with the fact that no-one was going to cater to her every whim the way she was used to.
Over the course of the movie, she often puts Colin in his place. She’s no more impressed with his tantrums then others were with hers.
I liked that Mary’s brattiness was shown for what it was – a spoilt child who’d never been loved but showered with material things, a girl who has to change with changing times – or be forced to stay in her nightgown. She wasn’t particularly likeable, and had to change that, too, if she wanted anyone to like her.
She went through this transformation all by herself. She could have stayed in her nightgown if she wanted, she could have remained a brat. She wouldn’t have starved – just been lonely. Instead, she sees that the world would be nicer to her if she was nicer to it, and learns to be nice, and command respect through a sunny personality, not bratty behaviour.
As a child, I loved the book, probably because Mary started off so unlikeable, and demonstrated a fiery temper the whole way through – she never became Little Miss Angelic. I’ve never seen any of the other adaptations, but I’ve been told this one is the best. It’s certainly one of the best children’s movies I’ve seen, namely because its protagonist was so flawed, often so unlikeable, basically, so relatable.