The Secret Garden is based on Frances Hodgson Burnett’s beloved turn of the 20th century novel of the same name. The film opens in India in 1947, on the eve of the Partition between India and Pakistan. It is a time of great conflict and disease, and young Mary (Dixie Egerickx) wakes up to discover that she has become an orphan—her parents had rushed to the hospital overnight but both succumbed to cholera. Mary grew up a spoiled child, with servants to dress and feed her, but now that she is on her own, she is forced to grow up quickly. Mary is sent to live with her grumpy uncle Archibald Craven (Colin Firth) at his manor house, Misselthwaite, which has become quite rundown over the past few years. It had been used as an army hospital during the war, and after the loss of his wife, the grieving Archibald let it fall into disrepair. Mary doesn’t really want to be here, and her uncle doesn’t seem to be all that pleased to have her there either. Upon her arrival, Archibald informs his niece that he will be looking into getting her a governess, or sending her away to a boarding school if she doesn’t behave properly. In charge of the house is Mrs. Medlock (Julie Walters), who also seems irritated by Mary’s presence. She tells Mary that she is not allowed to wander around the house, and must stick to her room unless otherwise instructed.
Housemaid Martha (Isis Davis) informs the spoiled young girl that she is not her personal servant. Mary will need to bathe and dress herself, her breakfast will consist of the porridge she is given, not the bacon and eggs she wants, and so on. It takes Mary some time to accept that her days of throwing a tantrum and getting her own way are not going to fly here at Misselthwaite. However, that doesn’t stop Mary from ignoring Mrs. Medlock’s rules and snooping around the house. While exploring the grounds, she comes across a wild dog, which leads her to a beautiful hidden garden shuttered and locked away deep in the property. Mary quickly falls in love with this living sanctuary, which appears to thrive in her presence. The garden also seems to have some sort of magical healing powers. During one of her daily travels to the garden, she befriends Dickon (Amir Wilson), Martha’s younger brother, who is tending to the moors. She shares the secret of the garden with him, and he starts to join her on her adventures, helping to prune and take care of the greenery.
At night in the house, Mary often hears screaming and other strange noises, and while scouting out the source of the commotion, she discovers that another boy her own age lives in Misselthwaite—a cousin named Colin (Edan Hayhurst) whom she never knew about. Colin is bedridden and unable to walk, and for most of his short life he has been shut away from the rest of the world, locked in his room. Colin has become a bit spoiled like Mary, and is used to getting his own way. Mary tries to befriend Colin, but they often butt heads. Whenever Mary tries to raise the topic of Colin’s mother, he screams or tries to cut her off—it is a painful subject that he doesn’t want to talk about or deal with. Mary thinks that a visit to the secret garden will do Colin good, and she tries to convince him to join her and Dickon on one of their adventures. However, Colin hasn’t been outside in many years, and has become a shut-in, afraid that he is allergic to nature. Also, if Colin’s father learned that he had left his room—or that Mary was even talking to him—he would be furious. But that isn’t going to stop Mary from trying.
I had never read The Secret Garden, and somehow had never seen any of the numerous television or film adaptations of story prior to this one. I was pleasantly surprised by the film—it mixes a bit of fantasy and wonder with a more grounded story of three people dealing with grief in their own ways. The themes of the film were a little more mature than I had expected. The trailers tout that the movie comes from the producers of Harry Potter and Paddington, so I was expecting something a little more whimsical and fantastical, but the themes of death and grief probably raise the age of the target demographic slightly.
At its core, The Secret Garden is about letting go, overcoming grief, and re-opening one’s life up to wonder and imagination. Three characters are grieving at the start of the story. For Mary it is over the loss of her parents. She blames herself for her parents’ deaths, and doesn’t believe that her mother even loved her. But as she explores Misselthwaite and discovers the secrets about the garden, she learns more about her mother’s past and her mother’s relationship with her twin sister. Meanwhile, Archibald has let the grief over the loss of his wife become all-consuming. Misselthwaite was once a beautiful home filled with love, joy and parties, but has now become dark, dreary, and depressing and almost like a prison. He has locked away all memories of his deceased wife—her clothing, photos, and even her son. Archibald wants to protect Colin from the pain he is experiencing, but in doing so, he has locked him away from the rest of the world, even the simple joys of nature, which is wife once loved. Once Mary finds the secret garden, she begins to change and find inner peace and joy, and learns to be a child once again, and she is determined to help Colin and her uncle do the same.
The film includes an amazing cast, from the recognizable veteran adult actors to the talented younger stars, who all deliver strong performances. We see these characters evolve and change over the course of the film, and the actors do a nice job of showing those transformations and bringing this world to life. The garden has character and personality all its own—it is a beautiful, magical and wondrous place that comes to life and reflects the feelings and attitudes of its inhabitants. Things grow lush and green when Mary is happy, or start to wither and turn brown if she is angry or upset. The garden also senses the needs of those inside—such as when Mary is being called back home and tree branches form a ladder to ease in her exit. It is an uplifting and inspirational film, and the secret garden is a fantastical place that helps the characters heal, remember how to be happy, and move on from their grief.
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment has released The Secret Garden on both Blu-ray Combo Pack and DVD, and is available in 4K on Digital. I received the Blu-ray release for review, and it looks and sounds excellent, with a pristine, detailed picture. The rich, bright colors of the garden contrast nicely with the darker, more dreary atmosphere at of Misselthwaite, but both are breathtakingly beautiful in their own ways. The audio track provides clear dialogue and makes excellent use of the stereo and surround channels to provide a very immersive viewing experience. In the opening of the film, the viewer is surrounded by the sounds of gunshots and explosions as Mary nervously tries to figure out what is happening. And once she arrives at Misselthwaite, the audio track provides a nice ambiance, from the creepy sounds of winds, creaking and screams inside the home, to the more pleasant nature sounds in the garden.
The Blu-ray and DVD disc come packed in a standard multi-disc HD keepcase along with a carboard slipcover. Inside is a sheet with the redemption instructions for the digital copy. STX Films doesn’t participate in Movies Anywhere—the digital copy only redeems via Apple TV. However, the great news about this is that the digital copy redeems in 4K, which provides a great free picture upgrade! The disc and digital copy both include 3 short promotional featurettes with the cast and filmmakers, as well as the film’s trailer. While there’s not too much to these features, they do give a very brief glimpse behind-the-scenes of the film.
- 1080p / Widescreen 1.85:1
- Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Spanish 5.1 DTS Digital Surround, English DVS (Descriptive Video Service)
- Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
- 480i / Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
- Audio: English 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, English DVS (Descriptive Video Service)
- Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
- 4K digital copy redeemable via Apple TV (not Movies Anywhere compatible)
Digital (code may not be valid after 10/5/2025):
- Characters (3:17)
The cast and filmmakers discuss the film’s iconic characters and the actors behind them. Includes behind-the-scenes footage, and interviews with producers Rosie Alison & David Heyman, director Marc Munden, screenwriter Jack Thorne, and stars Dixie Egerickx (“Mary Lennox”), Julie Waters (“Mrs Medlock”), Colin Firth (“Archibald Craven”), Edan Hayhurst (“Colin Craven”), Amir Wilson (“Dickon”), Isis Davis (“Martha”) & Fozzie (“Hector the Dog”).
- Concept to Reality (3:50)
The cast and filmmakers discuss the design of Misselthwaite Manor and the garden, and how these worlds come to life on screen. Includes behind-the-scenes footage, and interviews with producers David Heyman & Rosie Alison, screenwriter Jack Thorne, production designer Grant Montgomery, director Marc Munden, production sound mixer Nigel Albermaniche, and stars Colin Firth, Dixie Egerickx, Julie Waters, Edan Hayhurst & Isis Davis.
- Page to Screen (2:45)
The cast and filmmakers talk about bringing the beloved novel to life, making it feel both modern as well as authentic to the time period. Includes behind-the-scenes footage, and interviews with producers David Heyman & Rosie Alison, director Marc Munden, screenwriter Jack Thorne, costume designer Michele Clapton, production designer Grant Montgomery, and stars Colin Firth, Julie Waters &Isis Davis.
- The Official Trailer (2:23)
The Secret Garden is a beautiful and entertaining adaptation of a beloved novel, featuring some stunning visuals and some excellent performances from both its young stars and its highly-recognizable adult cast. While some parts of the film may be a little scary for younger viewers, I appreciated the way the movie embraced its central theme of overcoming grief, combining it with the more magical and fantastical world of the secret garden. Universal’s Blu-ray looks and sounds great (and even includes a 4K digital copy), but is light on bonus material. The release comes recommended based on the quality of the film and its presentation.