Trailers are teasers, of course but this one provoked optimism and indeed prompted me, in February this year (still just about BC) to re-read the book.
The copy had been my mother’s, which I had brought home when I cleared my parents' home after their deaths.
It was a new edition from 1942, with colour plates, a tattered dust jacket and inside, a loose, unfilled bookplate from the token with which she had almost certainly bought it for her eleventh birthday.
On the bookplate was a picture of a giant tulip growing up from bombed urban ruins.
I hadn't seen the bookplate for years but, while I remembered it visually, it was only this year that I felt a sense of what it was about.
On 3 May the year, CE (COVID Era), on the third anniversary of my mother’s death, the book and plate found itself in a poem I wrote about her.
Today, I finally caught up with the new film, released in a hodgepodge of ways, given the pandemic, including via Sky Cinema.
The novel was written in 1911, but Burnett's work avoided any of the cloying sentimentality that might have been left over from the Victorian era. Both Mary Lennox and her cousin Colin are unpleasant children: as we discover, that is a direct result of their respective upbringings, and redemption and reform is possible.
Mary has been orphaned; Colin has lost his mother and been confined to a room in the family manor by, in effect, his father’s utter terror that his son is weak and will die like his mother before him.
Here, the film has been updated to 1947. And it suits a version of the story that reflects today’s far greater awareness and understanding of psychology, of mental health and ill health, of grief, loss and much more.
It also chimes with our growing understanding of the restorative – and indeed, redemptive – nature of nature. This is a film that, without doing so clunkily, acknowledges the benefits of nature for mental health, and thereby presents a subtle but strong environmental message too.
Nature needs to be healthy for us to be healthy. We cannot exist separately.
Jack Thorne’s script is to be applauded for all this – and for its eschewing of an easy sentimentalisation of the story; for making Mary and Colin both initially unpleasant, but also understandable and redeemable. It’s a fine line, and one that the film charts well.
Director Marc Munden lends the story a sense of the magical that is far more pronounced that in the novel, but it works – again feeding into that environmental theme.
This is a small cast, but Dixie Egerickx as Mary, Edan Hayhurst as Colin and Amir Wilson as Dickon are excellent as the children upon whose shoulders any sense of believability in this fable rests.
As the adults, Colin Firth as Lord Craven and Julie Walters as housekeeper Mrs Medlock are … well, precisely what you’d expect from a pair of such fine actors.
If I have a criticism, it’s primarily that Dickon and his sister (Isis Davis) are not seen as fully as they are in the novel and that we don’t get as full a sense of the Yorkshire moors in the film as we do in the novel.
But this is probably a bit whiny – and I have to say that I do love the giant rhubarb!