October 4, 1993 -- ``The Secret Garden'' is a delightful film about children, but is much more than a mere children's film. It can be enjoyed by filmgoers of any age. The story is reminiscent of tales by Charles Dickens about children being brought up under strange, trying circumstances. In this tale, a young orphan girl arrives in England to live at her reclusive uncle's estate.
The film starts out in a dark and dreary building were children off a ship from India are being claimed by their relatives. It then moves to the dark, brooding 100-room mansion, where she explores its musty secrets. She finds her mother's old room and a key to a locked garden that was the favorite place of her late aunt, for which her uncle still suffers a crippling grief. At first, she is utterly alone in the large house and is harassed by the mean head housekeeper (an unsympathetic role well-played by award-winning actress Maggie Smith).
But soon she finds allies in housekeeper Martha (Laura Crossley) and Martha's brother, Dicken (Andrew Knott). After discovering the secret garden, she finds another ally in her uncle's son, played by Heydon Prowse.
As winter gives way to spring in the garden and life begins to overcome the death of winter, the children grow stronger and they begin to overcome the stifling grief that surrounds them.
The story ends in the spring in a wonderful triumph of life and light over darkness and death. It is a tremendously moving and powerful conclusion, achieved without special effects or violence of any kind.
The film explodes in light and color. Cinematographer Roger Deakins bathes the screen in the colors of spring, beautifully illustrating the power of life. The acting is uniformly excellent and the direction by Agniezka Holland (Europa, Europa) is deft.
The screenplay is flawless. There are no wasted words, no wasted scenes. There are no superfluous action sequences. There's no profanity. But unlike many children's films, the adults and children are both taken seriously in the story. This is the best family film I have seen since ``Beauty and the Beast.'' It rates an A.
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