When Home Vision Entertainment initially offered me the chance to interview the star of the now classic, and many feel definitive, version of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden( 1975) I was somewhat reticent especially given Twitch’s normal content. But after all, as appealing and safe as our parent’s basements are, most of us geeks (and I include myself in this category) could stand to creep out of the cultural shadows more often.
Few stories offer as much genuinely sunny warmth as The Secret Garden. Andrews plays Mary Lennox a 19th century British girl living in India. Orphaned by cholera she’s sent to live with her uncle Craven in Yorkshire. Her self-important attitude gives way to compassion as she explores the vast estate and becomes part of the family and servants lives. But it’s the discovery of a secret garden that sets her on the journey from self-absorbtion to other centeredness.
Dave Canfield: The Secret Garden is one of the most adapted pieces of children's fiction ever yet many consider your version (1975) the definitive one- any thoughts on why?
SHA: The 1975 version of the SG was popular I believe mainly due to director/screenwriter Dorothea Brooking’s love and passion for the story. Doro had made at least one other black and white version for television with Prunella Scales playing Martha and with Billie Whitelaw playing Mrs. Medlock, early on in their careers. Doro was a maverick in childrens' television and tackled a lot of the children’s classics during the 50s on through the 80s. In the end I think it was a case of a good script in the hands of good actors. The story has its own appeal and magic, to which people seem to respond.
DC: Do you read children's fiction? Potter etc.? What do you think of the speed with which such books are adapted to film? Can you compare the visual style of Children's films today with that of the simpler style of The Secret Garden?
SHA: I can’t say I read a lot of children’s fiction, although i probably should! I tend to read the old stuff, Dickens etc. But it seems apparent that technology has speeded up the art of story telling. It creates great visual and sound effects etc. for whoever is watching. But I can’t help wonder if perhaps the instantaneous effect takes away a little from the imagination, that a slower simpler version would allow for.
Of course movies are different than plays or books. All those ways of storytelling encourage the watcher or reader to absorb the story differently. In a book you simply have more space to develop characters, relationships and situations. Hopefully The Secret Garden struck a middle ground. None of this is to denigrate movies. Speediness can be fun!
DC: The IMDB only has one other reference for you. What have you been doing?
SHA: What have i been doing? Oh dear. So many years have gone by. Film and Television, professional theatre, have all taken up a lot of my time. I have traveled extensively and lived in different countries. I currently reside in Santa Fe NM where I’ve
been involved with the theatre scene for some years. I am a founding member of the Red Thread Collective theatre Co. I enjoy writing, and study the violin and I continue to work in plays and projects when they appeal to me.
DC: What sorts of interaction have you had with fans over the years?
SHA: It’s been wonderful. At the time of Secret Garden I received so many letters from children and adults who had liked the series, I answered them all. But I still hear from fans! It is amazing to me how much Secret Garden continues to be remembered.
DC: Do you have any children? If so is acting something you'd be interested in having them pursue?
SHA: I do not have children. I would say to pursue acting only if, as with any vocation, you feel called to do it. It is a tough business but a fascinating art form, which you can learn
DC: Do you ever hear from Secret Garden cast and crew?
SHA: I hadn’t heard from or seen any cast or crew, other than Doro Brooking, John Woodnutt and Jennie Goosens since making the series. But in 2004 the BBC Worldwide contacted myself and three other children from the series to do an interview. We met again for that, 30 years on!
DC: What are your fondest memories of making The Secret Garden?
SHA: Such fond memories. The house we filmed in for some of it was Constable estate in Yorshire, a big rambling place with lovely gardens and wonderful atmosphere. Working with the animals was also very exciting, we had a rabbit, owl and fox, all very co-operative. There was as I recall a great feeling during the making of the entire production. One of my favorite memories is of filming the 'skipping' scene. I had to pretend not to know how to skip rope when , in real life, I was quite good at it. That was a challenging bit of acting there!!
DC: What about the message of The Secret Garden is important for children to hear today?
SHA: The Secret Garden has such a great message about environment and the way that it teaches us about ourselves. The garden is riddled with symbols of death, life, sickness, and health, and shows us children growing through particular transitions. We are fairly removed from all that in our modern world. For now and the future I think we need to reconsider the earth. We are doing so to a degree, but it needs more attention. The Secret Garden perhaps in some small way informs us again of the importance of that.