Deadline reports that Guillermo del Toro will produce a new version of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic children’s novel “The Secret Garden.” Lucy Alibar, the Oscar nominated writer of “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” will write the screenplay.
Don’t know “The Secret Garden?” It was one of my favorite books when I was eight years old, so I’ll tell you about it. The book is about Mary Lennox, a British girl who’s being raised in India during the years of the British Raj. When her parents die in an epidemic, she’s sent to live with her uncle in Yorkshire, England. She’s a spoiled brat who’s confused and bitter about everything that’s happened to her, and her uncle is aloof, cold, and foreboding–a lot like his big empty house and the chilly, Yorkshire moors. While wandering around the house, Mary discovers her uncle’s son, Colin, a similarly spoiled, bitter, angry boy who’s been confined to his bed after an illness. She also finds a walled off empty garden that her uncle locked up and abandoned afterhis wife, who tended it, died. With the aid of a local boy, Dickon, Mary begins to secretly revive the garden, and also revive Colin. Working on the garden makes them happier and less angry and difficult, and eventually Colin develops enough strength to walk again. Her uncle finds all this and of course is happy, and realized how bitter and miserable he has made himself, and resolves to change. Happy ending.
Now get this–the book was written in 1911, and apparently the new version will keep that time period. However, they’re going to change the setting from the Yorkshire moors to the American South. Congratulations, you have just missed half the point of the book. The point–heavily made–is that in a strange, cold place where everything seems dead, Mary, Colin, and Dickon find warmth and life in the garden, and thus in themselves. It’s not hard to grow a garden in the American South. There’s not even really frickin’ winter. I’m sure del Toro is only focusing on Southern Gothic settings, but it just really hurts the message of the story. So I’m not really happy about this.
Obligatory factual note: there have been several movie and TV versions of “The Secret Garden,” most recently in 1993 by Agnieszka Holland. Probably the best version is the stage musical, which won Best Musical in 1991, and is still frequently performed by both professional and amateur companies.