Here’s some news you weren’t expecting: Universal Pictures just called dibs on a new adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett‘s The Secret Garden, written by Lucy Alibar and produced by Guillermo del Toro.
So on the one hand, I’m getting a little worried about Guillermo del Toro’s work schedule, but on the other, this project seems a perfect fit for the inclinations of all involved.
Lucy Alibar, as mentioned in the title, is one of the cowriters of Beasts of the Southern Wild, and superficially Beasts, Secret Garden, and Pan’s Labyrinth are not dissimilar, all featuring an independent, adventurous little girls whose stories largely take place in an isolated patch of wildness and in some cases magic surrounded by a more mundane, adult world. Even not superficially, they’re all stories about children dealing with the absence or loss of a parent and the fallout of having independence thrust on them earlier than they might be ready for it.
Beyond that, I can’t be the only kid who found lots of The Secret Garden to be tense, frightening, and full of things that are especially scary for little kids: being left alone, realizing that adults are lying to you, discovering a secret that no one wanted to talk about. Even if The Secret Garden lacks any clear manifestations of the supernatural (though the book certainly had enough Biblical allusions), there’s a lot there for del Toro and Alibar to work with.
There is no word yet on who will direct the adaptation, but Deadline says “word around town” is that the movie will be reset in the American South around the year 1900, not a huge jump in time from the novel’s original setting, but a relocation that I could see bearing very interesting fruit. Considering the importance of the interaction between Mary Lennox and the various servants and servants families of Misselthwaite Manor to The Secret Garden, it would be a huge stretch for this version of the novel to not address race and class differences of that setting.