The Secret Garden

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Details At A Glance

Category Family Theatrical Trailer(s) None
Rating Other Trailer(s) None
Year Released 1993 Commentary Tracks None
Running Time 97:24 minutes Other Extras None
RSDL/Flipper No/No
Cast & Crew
Start Up Movie
Region 2,4 Director Agnieszka Holland
Warner Bros
Warner Home Video
Starring Kate Maberly
Heydon Prowse
Andrew Knott

Maggie Smith

Case Snapper
RRP $34.95 Music Zbigniew Preisner

Pan & Scan/Full Frame No MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Dolby Digital 2.0
16x9 Enhancement
Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 2.0, 192 Kb/s)
French (Dolby Digital 2.0, 192 Kb/s)
Italian (Dolby Digital 2.0, 192 Kb/s)
Dutch (Dolby Digital 2.0, 192 Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    And when it comes time for my committal hearing to determine whether or not I am indeed insane, the first piece of evidence that will be presented will be the fact that within days of yawning my way through A Little Princess, I sat down to review what for all intents and purposes is the sister film to that effort - albeit the slightly older sister. Well at least that is what I was thinking when there was no reasonable excuse available for me to avoid the task of sitting down to review this disc. With a significant degree of trepidation, and with a healthy dose of suitable stimulants at the ready, I placed the disc into the player and pushed the play button. Panic ensued when the disc actually started to play - where are the dud discs when you really need them is all I ask? And then the opening scenes were displayed and I could feel the the dread seeping through the body - more stuff from India. Would I be able to survive this onslaught upon my sensibilities? Cursing Michael unmercifully, for it was his name against the review allocation for this film, I settled down for a tedious 97 minutes of evening non-entertainment.

    Funny how I actually ended up almost enjoying the film.

    Obviously based upon the book by Frances Hodgson Burnett, whose output on the evidence of two films is not exactly varied, the film once again starts off in India, and like the aforementioned A Little Princess, it starts with something of a tragedy. Mary Lennox (Kate Maberly) was born in India to English parents, typical examples of the British colonization of India. Whilst bemoaning her parents' lack of interest in her during yet another party, Mary becomes an orphan a few moments later when her parents are killed in the most unconvincing earthquake I have yet seen in a film. Returned to England, she goes to live with her uncle Lord Craven (John Lynch). Unfortunately Lord Craven never quite got over the death of his wife, which causes some problems in the house, not the least for Colin Craven (Heydon Prowse). The same age as Mary, Colin is a sickly young boy due to the over-coddling of the staff of the home, led by Mrs Medlock (Maggie Smith). As Mary begins to wander the estate, she discovers firstly the secret garden that no one has been allowed to enter since the death of her aunt, and secondly that she does indeed have a cousin. With the help of the brother of one of the young servant girls, Mary sets about bringing real life back to the garden and bringing Colin back into life through the garden, and through this, bringing Colin and his father together.

    Yes, the story is a little corny and there is nothing out of the ordinary here: indeed if the Di$ney logo were on this it would not have surprised at all, it has similar saccharine traces to a lot of Di$ney films. But this was rather neatly told, if not entirely convincingly brought to life by the young cast members. Obviously the cast highlight here is the inimitable Maggie Smith, whose credentials are beyond question: indeed, this effort earned her a Best Supporting Actress nomination at the 1994 British Academy Awards. Another typically British sterling performance from her and at no time are you unconvinced of her credentials as the head of the household in this decidedly British period piece. The three young leading cast members are actually quite decent in their roles, although I found Kate Maberly to be ever so slightly unconvincing - she simply did not come over well as the spoilt brat used to Indian servants doing everything for her, which is a bit of a problem when she turns around and calls Colin the spoilt brat! But like all period pieces from Britain, this is a convincing effort overall. Director Agnieszka Holland did a good job putting this together and there is some nice cinematography on show - particularly the time lapse photography.

    So at the end of the evening, I actually enjoyed this far more than I was expecting, although I hasten to add that I doubt that it is likely to find a frequent showing on my system. I would strongly suggest that you look at this effort first before venturing to A Little Princess though as you may be like me and find this a more palatable effort first up. Besides which, this evoked quite a few memories of the country of my birth for me - sorry, but there is still nothing quite so beautiful as a field full of bluebells in full bloom.

Transfer Quality


    And surprisingly, based upon my recent experiences, we have yet another very good transfer on offer from Warner Brothers.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and it is 16x9 enhanced.

    The similarities to A Little Princess transfer-wise are quite remarkable and this is again a quite sumptuous transfer, very nicely sharp and detailed throughout - at least where it was intended to be, as there were a few sequences which were supposed to be quite diffuse. The only real problem I had here was that the transfer was just a little on the dark side, which caused a few minor problems with tones during the film. In general, the backgrounds tended towards being a little diffuse, but this would appear to have been a deliberate choice by the director. Shadow detail was good throughout, although on occasions in really dark scenes just lacking a little. There did not appear to be any problems with low level noise in the transfer.

    This is a nicely vibrant transfer, although it should be borne in mind that the colourscape is supposed to be deliberately muted during the dark days of winter at the mansion. The spring-time colours come up especially well, and really sparkle at times. There are just the merest hints of oversaturation during the opening sequence, which is quite orangey in colour, but that is the only such problem in this regard with the transfer.

   There were no apparent MPEG artefacts in the transfer. Apart from some extremely minor instances of aliasing that hardly rate a mention, film-to-video artefacts were also not a problem in the transfer. Film artefacts were occasionally quite noticeable, but not really a serious distraction to the film.

    Just like the previously reviewed effort, whilst no subtitle options listed on the packaging were missing, there were still two available subtitle options not listed on the packaging: the usually omitted Romanian and Bulgarian options. Romanians and Bulgarians are probably wondering why they seem to be so badly treated in general by Warners, given the consistency with this problem from this source.


   The audio transfer is a good one too.

   There are four audio tracks on the DVD, all being Dolby Digital 2.0 efforts: English, French, Italian and Dutch. I listened to the default English soundtrack.

   Dialogue was clear and easy to understand throughout.

   There did not appear to be any audio sync problems with the transfer.

   The musical score comes from Zbigniew Preisner, who copped an award for Best Music from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association in 1993 - although this was shared with the great film that Preisner was involved with in 1993. Which one? Trois Couleurs: Bleu, and am I the only one wanting to see that film (nay, the whole trilogy) released on DVD? This is a nicely emotive score, mainly using single scored strings to great effect. Not really memorable but certainly quite noticeable and quite effective.

   This is a soundtrack rather lacking in detail, but I suppose for a straight stereo effort we could not expect too much to be offered - especially as the film itself presents little scope for surround or bass channel usage. To my mind this seemed just a little bit cramped, lacking a little bit of bloom in the sound picture, but overall really not too much to complain about. Certainly this is not a film that you will turn to to blast the neighbours with - whimper them maybe, but not blast them.


    Another Warners effort that is sadly devoid of any extras whatsoever, and this time made worse by the fact that the packaging suggests that there is a trailer on offer here. Ha Ha.


    Not too bad an effort but it again has so little to do that it is again not really not worth bothering about - and this is really starting to sound too damn repetitive.

R4 vs R1

    The Region 4 release misses out on a Pan and Scan version of the film and a trailer. Not wildly in favour of Region 1 I will admit, but that is the slight leaning that I have.


    Well I found this a lot more palatable than A Little Princess, which puts me at odds with the voters on the Internet Movie Database. Still, nothing like being different. Well worth having a look at.

    A very good video transfer.

    A good audio transfer.


    And so I go into rant mode once again. Sorry, but these idiotic errors on the packaging are really starting to annoy the heck out of me. I mean how difficult is it really to check a disc and get the extras listing correct on the cover? Okay, we all make mistakes, but the consistency in the mistakes from Warners really indicates a serious lack of commitment to quality control, and hence customer service. No organization dedicated to customer service would be caught making the sort of frequent errors we are inflicted with on Region 4 DVDs by Warners - especially on top of being afflicted with the dreadfully cheap looking snapper case. If it is really that difficult to get the job done properly, then I offer my services - I am quite willing to endure good pay to ensure that something as obvious as the subtitle listing is correct on a DVD cover. And whilst in rant mode, what exactly is a 1.85:1 regular transfer? Can't we even get some consistent terminology going here? 1.85:1 has to be a widescreen transfer, surely?

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris (have a laugh, check out the bio)
1st March 2000

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
Display Sony Trinitron Wega 84cm. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built in
Amplification Yamaha RXV-795. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL