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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Secret Garden
The Secret Garden
Home Vision Entertainment // G // July 12, 2005
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted August 29, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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The movie

Frances Hodgson Burnett's children's book The Secret Garden has been a favorite since its first publication in 1911, and has since become known as a classic. It's been adapted many times for both film and television, and not surprisingly, the BBC was behind one of the productions. The 1975 BBC version presents the story in a way that's faithful to the original book, showing it as a seven-part television series that runs a total of three and a half hours.

The Secret Garden tells the story of a spoiled little girl, Mary Lennox, who is sent to live with her uncle after her parents' deaths. One of the things that sets the book (and its adaptations) apart from the rest is that Mary is initially a fairly unlikeable character, as is her cousin Colin. Through her adventures with the country boy Dickon and the "secret garden" that she discovers, Mary develops as a character, as do the others in her life, including her uncle.

As a faithful rendition of the novel, this version of The Secret Garden is likely to find favor with fans of the original book, as well as those who appreciate a slightly slow-paced story. It's a charming story, with a situation and story that are intriguing and likely to appeal to a new audience of younger viewers (and seeing the main character develop from being a spoiled brat to being a nice little girl is always a positive lesson). The program's structure in seven half-hour parts also makes it well suited to younger viewers, who can get hooked into the story a bit at a time.

The only thing that holds this production back for a new generation of young viewers is its rather dated look. Once you get involved in watching it, it's not a big deal, but especially at first, it does have a very 1970s feel to it: not so much in the costuming and sets, which are handled well and are appropriate to the period setting, but in the production aspects of the program. There's a rather confined feel to many of the shots which isn't helped by things like a matte painting serving in place of a view out the window, and the fact that the transfer doesn't look very good is a constant reminder of the age of the program. There's also a slightly theatrical quality to the acting that takes a little bit of getting used to; the performances are handled well, but aren't quite as naturalistic as we've come to expect in the last decade or so.

All in all, this version of The Secret Garden is a nice production for parents and children to watch together. I'd say that at this point, it's best shown to younger children, probably seven or younger, as they're more likely to get interested in the child characters and not be quite so aware of the dated look.

The DVD

Video

The Secret Garden is presented in its original television aspect ratio of 1.33:1. As with most British productions of a certain age, there's a distinctive look to it: outside scenes are soft and grainy, while indoor scenes have a distinctly television-ish look, with everything in focus. Overall, the image quality is fairly poor, but still within the realm of watchability. The outdoor scenes are very murky, while the indoor scenes are cleaner, but with edge enhancement, the occasional colored halo, and sometimes a shimmery appearance. Colors are, on the whole, fairly muted.

Audio

The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is satisfactory, presenting the dialogue clearly and, on the whole, cleanly. There's a slight background hiss, but it doesn't really interfere with anything. English closed captions are included.

Extras

The only special feature on the DVD is a trailer for the BBC's Chronicles of Narnia. The printed insert also contains information about the author of The Secret Garden, Francis Hodgson Burnett.

Final thoughts

A cute and entertaining family story, the 1975 television version of The Secret Garden holds up reasonably well as a story, but it's hampered by a rather dated look and feel, and by the lackluster transfer. I'd suggest this a purchase for parents who loved the story and perhaps also this particular version as children, and who have young kids of their own to share it with. Overall, though, I'll give the DVD a "rent it" rating to reflect the overall quality of the transfer as well as the content of the program.

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