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Budding star: The Secret Garden’s Dixie Egerickx has a message for the world

Dixie Egerickx plays the young heroine in a big-screen remake of The Secret Garden. She says the tale has an evergreen message

Dixie Egerickx, star of the latest adaptation of perennial children’s tale The Secret Garden, has a new-found appreciation for the outdoors.

Across the UK, lawns have never been neater, weeds never scarcer. For those fortunate enough to have a garden of their own, lockdown gave a fresh perspective on that private pocket of nature, a window through which to view the wider world as more and more time was spent closer to home.

For 14-year-old Egerickx, who stars as Mary Lennox in the new adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic, it was no different. 

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“I’m pretty lucky that we have a nice big garden at home,” she says. “And obviously, even though we were in lockdown, we did get some very nice weather. Spending a lot of time out there was really good. Even when I had to do online school, I would be outside and it was actually a welcome change from having to be in a classroom all day. My garden was my little escape.”

The Secret Garden, from the team behind the Harry Potter and Paddington films, will offer all audiences a little escapism. Originally due to be released in cinemas last spring, instead the film premieres on Sky Cinema this week. A luminous, feelgood take on the well-loved tale, the story’s evergreen themes have never been more relevant as we buckle up for an uncertain winter.

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“The film explores the importance of having friends and joy and curiosity,” Egerickx explains. “I’d read the book beforehand when I was younger. But the film goes more in-depth into some things. I feel like it’s very relevant in these times.”

In the film, Mary starts off quite contrary.

“I feel like you see why she is like she is. She was forced to grow up quite fast. She didn’t really have any friends, but also she had an emotionally unavailable mother and a father she didn’t see much of. She is lonely.”

After she is orphaned, Mary is sent to live with her bitter and broken uncle, Lord Craven, in his stately manor with its sprawling grounds. Exploring the house leads Mary to meet a bed-bound cousin called Colin whom she didn’t know existed, and exploring the estate leads her to befriend Dickon, the young brother of a servant.

They discover a magical place that reveals new miracles every morning.

“She learns how to be a kid through the garden,” Egerickx says. “She comes to terms with what happened in the past and by the end, she’s kind and caring. She’s developed and grown as a person and helped everyone around her do the same.

“The garden is a metaphor for growth… You know what I mean, not just growth as in physical growth – emotional growth. Everything grows and blossoms.”

The fantastical garden was no trick of CGI. Filming took place in various locations across the UK.

“The gardens are really beautiful. There was one I really liked called Trebah in Cornwall. It was so cool because it had these huge, huge gunnera plants. That whole garden was amazing. At the end of it there was this little private beach. Because we had to do tutoring, we got do our schoolwork on the beach on a really hot sunny day.

“It was amazing to be outside all the time. Usually when you film stuff like that you’re in a studio. So it was a nice change. I just had a lot of fun and also with the boys because, you know, it was nice to have people my age on set.”

Despite her age, Egerickx already shared the screen with an enviable list of names, even if they were a bit older. As well as Benedict Cumberbatch in the Patrick Melrose series, she has worked with Gemma Arterton, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tom Courtenay and Penelope Wilton in Summerland.

In The Secret Garden, she shines opposite two national treasures, Colin Firth who plays Lord Craven, and Julie Walters as housekeeper Mrs Medlock.

But despite the mini-Mamma Mia! reunion, there were no behind-the-scenes singalongs. “I hate to disappoint… if anything took place, I certainly was not involved.”

It’s no spoiler to say that Mary helps them all overcome their own frailties. “How is it that we are taught by our children?” asks Lord Craven.

Egerickx is taking time out of her homework schedule to speak to the Big Issue. “When I was in lockdown, I actually missed school. A big part is seeing your friends, the social aspect. Even though I was probably going through the motions of doing the work and everything, I did kind of miss school during lockdown.

“Now we’re back physically in school. Although we have to wear a mask all day in every lesson. While I completely appreciate that that is needed, it’s mildly uncomfortable.”

Should adults be learning lessons from kids at a time like this?

“Yeah. I mean, I think so,” starts Egerickx. “I can’t really speak for old people, because I’m not really an old person but from my point of view there’s always stuff to be learned from other people, whether they’re younger or older than you.

“Again, I don’t really know but I feel like as you get older you probably forget certain things. Not necessarily forgetting, but you might need to be reminded of the importance of your family, your friends and kindness.”

The Secret Garden, a Sky original, is in cinemas and on Sky Cinema now.

Image credit: Joseph Sinclair

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