The Secret Garden

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.


  1. Jennifer Kesler says

    she’s sent to live with her uncle (her late mother’s late sister, a man she’s never met)

    Eh? Her uncle is a deceased woman? LOL, I think something got lost in translation there.

    This sounds like a nice departure from “bratty girl gets punished” and “bratty girl becomes sweet angel”. From your description, she didn’t so much change as find a better way to direct her considerable energy and spirit.

  2. scarlett says

    I’m ure you worked out what I meant, but just because I forget that not everyone’s read the book:

    Archibald’s wife and Mary’s mother were sisters. The wife is long dead by the book/movie’s begining and the mother dies at the begining of the book/movie. (In the movie, it’s an earthquake, it the book, some kind of fever.) Archibald is Mary’s closest relative even though he’s not a blood relative.

    I watched the newest remake of another children’s classic, A Little Princess, and it struck me that Mary was a lot more fleshed out then Sara; I liked Mary precicely because of her temper and growth throughout the movie. Makes me want to go hunt down my copy of the book now :p

  3. Pat Mathews says

    Is this the one where we have a very brief epilog where Dickon is killed in World War One? Because I look at some of these children’s classics – yes, including Peter Pan – and realize we’re seeing the
    children who will be the next decade’s Lost Generation, and it gives added poignancy to the tales of their childhoods now. In fact, the entire message of Secret Garden, Little Princess, and Peter Pan is “You’re on your own – and it will be the making of you.”

    The kids in Peter Pan go home. Sara in Little Princess finds a guardian. Mary and Colin become stronger children. They’ll need it.

  4. scarlett says

    No, the one I’m talking about is the most recent version, from 1993. I recall there was a discussion on the IMDB about all the different adaptation and yes, there was a version where Dickon is killed in WW1 and Mary marries/accepts Colin’s proposal (in that version they aren’t cousins).

    I’m not sure Sara really changes in ALP, certainly not in the way Mary does – I think Mary learns to become a nicer version of herself – as opposed to changing completely – whereas Sara clings to her ideals and is reunited with her father and everyone gets what’s coming to them in the end (at least in the movie; it’s been years since I read the book).

  5. Jennifer Kesler says

    Scarlett, I was just trying to let you know that it didn’t make sense so you might want to edit it. This would work:

    “(the husband of her late mother’s late sister, a man she’s never met)”

  6. Bastet says

    I actually liked A Little Princess better as a kid, but yeah, Sara is not nearly as interesting a character as Mary, who is a much more realistic little girl. I’m a big fan of the musical as well.

  7. scarlett says

    I love ALP – haven’t read the book in ages but saw the most recent movie (like 1995) a few weeks ago. The bit with the flower always gets me. I started writing about it for this site but I realised, as we agree, that Sara isn’t nearly as interesting or realistic as Mary, and I’m more likely then not to crap on about the flower scene for 500 words :p

  8. MaggieCat says

    I’m a big fan of the musical as well.

    I love the musical based on the book. Interesting note; it’s one of the very rare musicals out there that (original production) was entirely written, scored, and directed by women. (Sorry, seeing the touring production of that back in 1993 is what’s responsible for my devotion to theatre and I still have the soundtrack memorized.)

  9. Ree says

    I’m not sure Sara really changes in ALP, certainly not in the way Mary does – I think Mary learns to become a nicer version of herself – as opposed to changing completely – whereas Sara clings to her ideals and is reunited with her father and everyone gets what’s coming to them in the end (at least in the movie; it’s been years since I read the book).–scarlett

    Sorry to comment on such an old post, but I just had to comment on the ALP comments. Sara doesn’t change as much as Mary, but I think she’s so interesting anyway. Sara had a lot of advantages in the beginning of the book (the money, the dolls, her father’s love) and decided to try to act like a princess, brave and kind. Then it’s all taken away with her father’s death and she has to make the conscious decision to keep acting brave and kind, like how a princess should.

    I can’t remember if it’s explicitly stated, but I certainly got the impression that Sara realized it was easy to be a princess when you were rich and had enough to eat, but not so easy when you’re starving. The scene where she gives five buns to another starving girl when she, Sara, is so hungry, and could eat them all….well, it’s heartbreaking, but real. She is sacrificing and it’s not easy for her, but she does it.

    I guess my point is I’d quibble with the notion that because Sara has ideals from the get-go means she didn’t grow as a character. She kept her ideals through the worst times, when it would have been very easy to give up.

    I also didn’t find the ending too “fairy tale,” really. Of course Sara left the school she’d been at (although Miss Minchin tried to get her back as a student–LOL!) but she didn’t hurt Miss Minchin in any way…the school stayed open, etc.

  10. scarlett says

    Well I think Mary’s growth is the most obvious but you have a point, Sara shows a stength in her determination to hang onto her ideals. One of my all-time favorite scenes in a movie is when Sara gives the bun to the family, she’s cold and starving herself but even so, she can see people worse off than she is. And when they give her the flower, she leaves it for the rich man next door because he lost his son. (Never mind that, dude, how was he meant to open to door without braking the flower?) Showed a lot of class, IMHO.

    But ALP often comes across to me as a bit sachrine. Sara’s a bit TOO nice, she never comes across as rally flawed. Mary was a spoilt brat; that’s bloody flawed. But Sara was kind, gracious, smart, even in her poverty.

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