Back To The Secret Garden Review
By Christopher Null
Moviegoers who fondly remember Agnieszka Holland's lovingly crafted 1993 version of the classic children's story The Secret Garden will be disappointed to learn that Back to the Secret Garden is not the sequel. Rather, it's the sequel to a 1987 version of the same story, only this one was produced as a "Hallmark Hall of Fame" TV movie. (To add to the confusion, this story apparently has nothing to do with the much-maligned book sequel, Return to the Secret Garden, nor is it the same film as another 2000 movie called Return to the Secret Garden.) But putting all the confusion aside, it's a safe bet that you won't want to see or read any of the sequels.
I never saw Hallmark's version, but I doubt it could hold a candle to Holland's. If this sequel is any guide, it was nothing to crow about. Back to the Secret Garden may hold minor interest for Anglophiles and/or children so young they can't comprehend plots, but the magic in the original garden is strikingly lacking in this rehash.
The story tells us of an orphan from Brooklyn named Lizzie (Camilla Belle -- dig your eyebrows, kid!) who is sent to a boarding school that has sprung up on the grounds where Mary Craven discovered the garden as a child. Now Mary is grown up and has entrusted the magic key to dowdy headmistress Sowerby (Joan Plowright), and the garden finds itself dying once again. She even cuts a new gate into the wall because she can't find the magic entrance! Only through sneaking into the garden to discover its secrets does Lizzie figure out the problem, ostensibly learning a few life lessons along the way while enhancing her horticultural abilities.
The plot is a considerable waste of time, just filler involving various spats among the children at the school and/or Miss Sowerby, all so we can get to the end, when we know perfectly well that Lizzie will figure out how to revive the garden. Dozens of supporting characters are introduced, but they have virtually nothing to do with Lizzie or the story, except to serve as obstacles between her and the garden. A stolen key actually consumes a third of the story. What's more is none of Lizzie's new friends find themselves changed much by the end of the movie, except they get to play and run around more.
Plowright plays Plowright, and most of the child actors are good in that mannered British style. Belle's Lizzie is a bit forced but not unwatchable, and for a TV movie the production values are reasonably high.
In the end, the movie is harmless, just as long as you don't find the original's been ruined along the way.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Sunday 2nd September 2001
Distributed by: Hallmark Entertainment
Production compaines: Hallmark Entertainment, Artisan Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Cast & Crew