How scenes from the Secret Garden remake were filmed in Helmsley Walled Garden
- Credit: Archant
A remake of The Secret Garden hits cinemas in August with Yorkshire in a starring role
‘If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.’ With such childlike optimism and spirit, it’s not difficult to understand why, more than 100 years after its publication, The Secret Garden remains one of the most treasured children’s books of all time. So much so that a shiny new film adaptation of the story is imminent, released this month in cinemas. And, like its author, Frances Hodgson Burnett, the film has strong links to Yorkshire and the North.
Hodgson Burnett’s father was a Yorkshireman, from Doncaster, and she herself was born and raised in Manchester. After her father’s death when she was a teenager, her family emigrated to America, but she returned to England as a successful writer in her thirties, living at Great Maytham Hall in Kent for a time. She wrote most of The Secret Garden while living there; its walled rose garden, which she cared for passionately, is thought to have inspired the story, though she changed the setting to the North York Moors.
The novel’s heroine is ten-year-old Mary Lennox, born in India to wealthy British parents. When they die suddenly, she is sent to Yorkshire to live with her uncle, Archibald Craven, at the haunting and remote Misselthwaite Manor. Mary, at first hostile and angry, begins to explore the house and its grounds, uncovering a seemingly magical locked garden and unravelling secrets about her family and the occupants of the great house.
The simple beauty of the story has inspired several previous film and television adaptations, most notably in 1993, when Dame Maggie Smith starred as Misselthwaite’s formidable housekeeper Mrs Medlock. Back then, Allerton Castle, near Knaresborough, and Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden were used as filming locations. The new adaptation stars Colin Firth as Archibald Craven and Julie Walters as Mrs Medlock. It was during filming that Julie Walters discovered she had bowel cancer, she revealed recently.
Dixie Egerickx, 14, plays Mary. Its producer David Heyman was also behind the Harry Potter movies, Paddington, and two of this year’s Oscar-nominated films, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Marriage Story. The plot has been brought forward in time to 1947 (the novel is set in the Edwardian period), in the aftermath of WWII and the lead-up to the partition of India.
As with its predecessor, filming took place in Yorkshire, among other locations around the UK, including Iford Manor Gardens near Bath and Bodnant Gardens, near Conwy, North Wales. The star of the show is Helmsley Walled Garden, a five-acre garden beneath the ruins of Helmsley Castle. It was created in 1756, after the Duncombe family had built the nearby Duncombe Park (which is also used in the film, as Misselthwaite Manor).
Tricia Harris, the garden’s assistant garden manager and marketing manager, says: ‘Like many people, I’ve loved the book since I was small and it probably influenced me in starting to garden. The film and the book say a lot about wellness and the importance of nature and gardening in improving our health and wellbeing. At Helmsley Walled Garden, we support disadvantaged adults, providing opportunities for therapeutic horticulture. We know first-hand how much everyone benefits from being outdoors, working with nature as part of a team and it’s great to see that on the big screen. We hope that lots of people will see the film and be inspired to visit us. We are a small charity and fund everything we do through visitor admissions, so more visitors means that we can do more to support those who need it, and develop the garden.’
Rosie Alison, from production company Heyday Films, adds: ‘We fell in love with Helmsley Walled Garden when we visited it on our location search: not only is it an exquisite garden, but the work done there to encourage the therapeutic benefits of gardening is so in tune with The Secret Garden. We were proud to film the children’s unbridled joy there.’
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The Secret Garden will be available on demand everywhere August 7
Helmsley Walled Garden is back open to the public again after lockdown, although you’ll need to book tickets in advance. The website notes that initially the garden ‘will open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 5pm, last entry 4.30pm. Entrance is £8 for adults, and free for under 16s.