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TV REVIEW : 'Secret Garden,' on CBS Tonight, a Classic for Kids

November 30, 1987|LYNNE HEFFLEY

A brooding Yorkshire manor, tragedy, misty moors and mysteries waiting to be ferreted out--all are present in tonight's "Hallmark Hall of Fame" production of "The Secret Garden," airing at 9 p.m. on CBS (Channels 2 and 8). It's a stylish presentation of a classic in children's literature.

As directed by Alan Grint, Frances Hodgson Burnett's 1911 story of 10-year-old Mary Lennox, a sour and unlikable orphan brought from India to live in a gloomy English castle, remains mostly intact.

Mary (Gennie James) comes out of her shell as she meets the gruff but kindly gardener Ben Weatherstaff (Michael Hordorn), the fretful young invalid Colin Craven (Jadrien Steele) and Dickon (Barret Oliver), a mystical Yorkshire boy who talks to animals. In turn, Mary's awakening brings life and warmth to unhappy Misselthwaite Manor and its inhabitants.

The child actors are fine, despite a disconcerting hodgepodge of accents--American children are featured with an otherwise all-British cast. The adults are a pleasure to watch: Derek Jacobi in the small role of Archibald Craven, master of the manor, haunted by the loss of his wife in childbirth; Billie Whitelaw's tight-lipped Mrs. Medlock; girlish Cassie Stuart as Mary's maid and first friend.

Hordorn, with his marvelously seamed face and sad eyes, is masterful at reflecting endless humor and compassion.

For the most part faithful to the book, Blanche Hanalis' teleplay has taken a few liberties. A tag at the end takes the children into adulthood, circa World War I, to tell us how it all came out.

Gentle-faced Jacobi as Craven, who is supposed to be slightly crippled, has been given a distasteful, self-pitying speech: "You find me repulsive, don't you?" he asks Mary when they meet. "If we met in the dark, would you scream and run away?" Silly.

Burnett knew how to create literary magic (she also wrote "A Little Princess" and "Little Lord Fauntleroy"), and this lush family film does retain a bit of it. It's worth seeing . . . but don't miss the book.

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