Ross Hunter and Ronald Neame’s The Chalk Garden is a most engaging and faithful adaptation of the hit Broadway and London play.
The Production: 4/5
Ronald Neame’s screen adaptation of Enid Bagnold’s stage drama The Chalk Garden may have the glossy sheen that its producer Ross Hunter expended on all of his productions, but that luster doesn’t dull the character explorations contained in the mostly faithful script. With tremendous performances from all of its leading players and some stunning Sussex locations to abet its storytelling, The Chalk Garden makes for a most satisfying movie variation on its original source.
Eccentric Mrs. St. Maugham (Edith Evans) seeks a governess for her sixteen-year old granddaughter Laurel (Hayley Mills), a somewhat spoiled brat who manages to drive away each and every prior governess by exposing their pasts or unnerving them with her own quirky eccentricities. When enigmatic applicant Miss Madrigal (Deborah Kerr) with a mysterious past manages to charm Mrs. St. Maugham into giving her the post, Laurel vows to expose her, too. Meanwhile, Laurel’s newly married mother Olivia (Elizabeth Sellars) who’s been estranged from her mother since giving her Laurel to raise makes it known that she’s going to try to get her daughter back.
John Michael Hayes’ adaptation of Enid Bagnold’s drama retains the wry, dry wit in much of the banter and only makes a few nips and tucks along the way in telling its story of a troubled teen and her equally uneasy nanny coming to grips with their mutual loneliness, mistrust of authority, and a desire to be wanted and loved. Hayes opens up the play ever so slightly with some cliff drawing excursions, tennis romps at a local court, and bus rides down city streets, but he retains the pointed gardening metaphors suggested by the title which insist on the resistance of anything growing in surroundings unconducive to blossoming. Director Ronald Neame provides a steady hand in guiding the action so that the dialogue-heavy script never becomes mired in talk by keeping things moving and providing attendant activities that disguise the dialogue within interesting events (the opening interviews, a tree climbing, and a climactic luncheon where secrets are inevitably revealed).
Coming right after her role in The Innocents, Deborah Kerr seems right at home playing another governess, and she exudes a genteel calmness and surety that masks her underlying misery and bitterness. It’s truly a breakout role for Hayley Mills after a series of ingratiating but grounded pre-teens and adolescents for Walt Disney. Here, she retains her spark and verve but with a much more deeply psychologically troubled person to act, she plumbs her psyche and triumphs throughout. Edith Evans earned an Oscar nomination as the galvanizing Mrs. St. Maugham, quick to quip and quicker to react while John Mills as valet Maitland sets a sure and steady course throughout the film’s 106-minute running time. Felix Aylmer scores points as the wise Judge McWhirrey, family friend and one-time beau of Mrs. St. Maugham, and Elizabeth Sellars makes the most of her two scenes as the estranged Olivia desperate now to reunite with her daughter once she marries happily and learns she’s expecting another child.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s 1.85:1 original theatrical aspect ratio is retained in this faithful 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. The image quality is majestic as color is wonderfully hued and solidly consistent, and sharpness is everything one would want in a film of this age with lots of detail in the costumes, furnishings, and facial features of all the principals. There are no age-related problems with scratches, dirt, or debris.
While the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track is mostly solid, there are a couple of instances of minor distortion where there are possibly channel phasing problems that sound off. Otherwise, the dialogue, sound effects, and Malcolm Arnold’s rather romantic score (which would sometimes seem to be more suitable for one of Hunter’s lush melodramas like Back Street or Imitation of Life) have been blended beautifully. There are no age-related problems with hiss, crackle, flutter, or pops.
Special Features: 2/5
Audio Commentary: film historian Tim Lucas offers an interesting and most professional commentary track providing plenty of background on the production and offering some critical analysis at crucial junctures while also going silent for some important dialogue exchanges. Fans of the movie will really enjoy this.
Theatrical Trailer (2:50, HD)
Kino Trailers: Separate Tables, Endless Night, Meteor.
Ross Hunter and Ronald Neame’s The Chalk Garden is a most engaging and faithful adaptation of the hit Broadway and London play. The cast is fantastic, the production design first-rate, and the direction smooth as silk in a movie that offers quite a few pleasures both for first-time viewers and for frequent returnees. Recommended!