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Home Vision Entertainment presents
The Secret Garden (1975)

"I'm standing inside the secret garden."
- Mary Lennox (Sarah Hollis Andrews)

Review By: Jeff Ulmer   
Published: July 11, 2005

Stars: Sarah Hollis Andrews, John Woodnutt, David Patterson, Jacqueline Hoyle, Hope Johnstone, Tom Harrison, Andrew Harrison
Other Stars: William Marsh, Lorraine Peters, Jennie Goossens, Richard Warner, Clifford Cox, Charles Collingwood, Alison Lowndes, Basil Clarke
Director: Katrina Murray

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 03h:20m:27s
Release Date: July 12, 2005
UPC: 037429206720
Genre: family

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- B+B+B+ D+

DVD Review

Of the 40-plus novels written by English author Frances Hodgson Burnett, it is her children's works, beginning with 1886's influential Little Lord Fauntleroy and also including The Little Princess (originally Sarah Crewe, 1888) that have sustained her popularity. The Secret Garden (1909) remains a favorite, and has seen many screen adaptations over the years, with this 1975 BBC television production appearing as a seven-part miniseries.

As the story opens we are introduced to young Mary Lennox (Sarah Hollis Andrews), a spoiled child living in India under the care of her Ayah, as her parents too busy to have anything to do with her. Abandoned when cholera claims the lives of most of her household, she is shipped back to England to live on the sprawling estate of her uncle, Mr. Archibald Craven (John Woodnutt), which lies adjacent to the moors. The Craven household is an uninviting place, with an unspeakable sadness about it. Like her parents, her uncle wants nothing to do with her, leaving young Mary in the care of the servants who have strict orders to keep her out of the way. Used to being waited on hand and foot, Mary is a miserable child, who makes life for servants difficult. After much fuss, Mary finally ventures outside, where she learns of a secret garden, hidden behind tall walls, which piques her curiosity. She is further entranced by Dickon (Andrew Harrison), a servant boy who has befriended the animals, and is especially intrigued by a lone robin who guides her to the entrance of the forgotten oasis. As the mystery of the garden begins to unfold, there are other secrets yet to be discovered in the house, and as Mary becomes aware of them, she will have a profound impact on everyone under its roof.

Despite its dour setting and fairly unlikeable characters, The Secret Garden is a wonderful and ultimately uplifting story, with plenty of intrigue along the way. The children are the central characters, and once the entire cast is exposed, they find ways of creating mischief that will eventually end in triumph. The magic of the garden helps bring warmth to otherwise cold and embittered characters, replacing a lingering sense of loss and despair with a new hope and vitality.

This version, like most BBC productions, has a very theatrical and staged feel to it, which is somewhat distancing. Like any production driven by child actors, their ability to come across naturally is paramount, and here, while for the most part carrying their roles, they take a while to settle in, and are often tentative, or caught looking off screen while others recite their parts, and several times flub their lines. The adults too seem uncomfortable at first, and a little too stiff. That said, there are also times when things come together nicely.

While remaining faithful to the novel, the miniseries length often protracts scenes, slowing the pacing to keep episode breaks at important chapters. The production is uneven, and while there is some use of exteriors, most of the series is shot on set, which adds to the artificial atmosphere, as the changes are quite obvious. Shot on video, the lighting is rather flat, and there are many times when the boom shadows or other unintended distractions are visible. When the televised nature of the series, and its assumedly limited budget, is taken into consideration, this is an enjoyable version overall, but not entirely convincing, and is still easily bested Agnieszka Holland's 1993 theatrical adaptation.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Shot on mid-1970s video, the production suffers from many of the drawbacks of the medium. Colors are rather flat, detail is indistinct and black levels are lacking. There is a murkiness to most outdoor scenes, and inserted film pieces stand out for their grain levels. There is plenty of flaring, whites are often blown out, some banding appears as does some ghosting and the odd dropout. There are a few minor compression issues. Most, if not all, of these are due to the original source, and are not things I could see easily corrected.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Mono audio is respectable, with no major technical flaws. Dialogue is often excessively sibililant, with Hope Johnstone's (Mrs. Medlock) voice suffering the most. The thick accents may also be a challenge for some. There is some background hiss due to the location recording. Despite these issues, there is nothing really unexpected here.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 35 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Frances Hodgson Burnett essay
Extras Review: Each half hour episode contains five chapter stops.

The lone on-disc extra is a trailer for The Chronicles of Narnia.

The included leaflet has a chapter listing along with a single-page essay on author Frances Hodgson Burnett.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

The Secret Garden remains one of the most memorable children's stories ever written, and this television version brings the tale to life well enough, although its style doesn't quite do it justice.


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