The film sees two isolated children neglected in different ways and the impact that has on behaviour and mental wellbeing which is really interesting. Was this something you wanted to explore in the film?
Yes indeed. We really wanted to dig into the way that both Mary and Colin are both emotionally neglected children, and truly damaged by that. Both of them have lost parents and suffered trauma. And at the start of the film, both of them parrot absurd adult assumptions and opinions, through their isolation. They talk like entitled little adults, and gradually they have to relearn how to be children again, and to play.
The garden unlocks that in them, and gradually their friendship heals them. But the heart of the film is that these child characters are lonely, and socially ill-adjusted. They always appealed to me as a child because I also felt lonely and an outsider. Yet as Mary and Colin awaken through the garden, and to each other, so their imagination and empathy develops, and they are better able to intuit the complicated frailties of their parents, and forgive them.
This is a story all about children breaking the cycle of family misery and grief. They learn instead to trust each other and build their friendships. They are the resilient ones, who forgive their parents, and restore family harmony. But they begin from a place of loneliness and confusion, having to cope with emotionally absent parents - as so many children do.
The impact of bereavement on a family is quite significant, what role do you feel friendship plays in healing from these experiences?
I think this story shows what a huge step friendship can be. It’s so risky, and frightening, the fear of rejection by a fellow child. The sparring between Mary and Colin - and Dickon too, at the start - shows how anxiety-inducing it can be for a child to reach out to a new friend. But through curiosity (and desperation!) they do overcome their doubts, and learn to trust each other, and their ensuing friendship liberates them all - and brings amazing joy.
Although in this story, all three children have lost a parent (or in Mary’s case, both parents) I feel that this tale of childhood bonding speaks not only to those who are bereaved, but any children (and there are so many) who have suffered some degree of emotional absence or neglect by their parents. Whether through depression, or economic stress, or unhappy marriages, or substance abuse, or myriad other adult afflictions, there are so many reasons why children all too often have to make their own happiness, without the help of parents. This story speaks to those children.
There are connections in the film to our current situation and the impact that lockdown has had on children’s wellbeing - how they have missed out on connections with family and friends - part of normal formative socialisation activities in those early years as well as missing out on learning. Some will also be experiencing bereavement and parental distress just as Colin does and it's an amazing gift to have this film at this time, thank you! What have you learnt from it considering all we are going through as a nation currently?
I am lucky enough to live near a London park, so I've been able to walk on grass, among trees, and seeing a big sky, all through lockdown. This has made an incalculable difference to me. Retaining connection with the cycles of nature, trees, and the sky, has kept me feeling part of the world around me. The healing benefits of nature, even in a municipal park, are immense.
I have sensed that the entire nation has felt the benefit of ‘going for a walk’ - we have been treasuring our green spaces. Also the need to stay in touch with family and friends, to keep alive those threads of connection between us all. To keep saying ‘are you ok?’ and to tell a loved one that you love them, before it is too late. ’The Secret Garden’ does speak to this lockdown moment in our history in ways we never expected.