Tag Archives: book

Beauty in the Movies: The Secret Garden

Most kids have a book (or series of books) that opens up such a world of wonder it becomes a near obsession. For some it might be Little Women, or Harry Potter, but for me that book was Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. Maybe it’s because growing up in an apartment gardens were foreign and fascinating, or maybe it’s because I’m a Capricorn,  but whatever the reason, I found the story pure magic, and I still do.

The Secret Garden is the story of Mary Lennox (Kate Maberly), a 10-year-old girl, born and raised in colonial India by neglectful parents. As a result, Mary has never had friends and grows up incredibly spoiled and bitter. When her parents die suddenly in an earthquake (in the book it’s a cholera outbreak), Mary finds herself shipped back to England to live with a tortured and often absent uncle (John Lynch) whom she has never met on his sprawling country estate, Misselthwaite Manor.

Not only is the house mysterious, it has an air of melancholy, as though “a spell has been cast upon it”. The housekeeper, Mrs. Medlock (Maggie Smith) keeps Mary locked in her room and refuses to coddle her. The sole kindness Mary encounters is from Martha (Laura Crossley), one of Medlock’s servants who is able to calm her violent temper. It’s only when Mary discovers a secret passage in her room, that she begins to unlock the secrets of the house.


Mary stumbles on a key in the room of her deceased aunt, and learns that it opens the door to a beloved garden left neglected after her aunt’s death. As Mary, and Martha’s animal-charmer brother Dickon (Andrew Knott), set about restoring the garden to its former beauty, Mary finds there are more mysteries to be discovered at Misselthwaite.

Early spring always makes me think of The Secret Garden, the world slowly thawing and coming back to life after a harsh winter. There’s magic in the budding of trees and the blooming of the first daffodils—it’s hope, it’s renewal, not just for the earth, but for ourselves as well. The Secret Garden is a metaphorical story with a heavy dose of magical realism. As the garden blossoms so does Mary, and the effect it has on her is contagious, setting off an awakening throughout Misselthwaite.

Not to sound like an old biddy, but I worry that with all the technology available to kids today they’re missing out on the freedom and enchantment of the outdoors. The Secret Garden highlights such an important part of childhood, not just bonding with friends, but the liberation of being outside and making your own discoveries, even if it’s in your own backyard.

While there are a few small deviations from the original novel in this adaptation by Polish director Agnieszka Holland, it’s by far the most visually beautiful and emotionally effective of the many attempts to bring this story to the screen.

The Secret Garden is a gothic tale, almost Jane Eyre-like with the desolate moors and the ghostly wailing in the night. Holland really captures the darkness in the story and pushes the symbolism as well, Mary’s Aunt’s room is not only vacant, but overgrown in vines like a scene out of Sleeping Beauty.

Frances Hodgson Burnett never saw the success of The Secret Garden during her life, her other novels enjoyed much greater popularity in their time. Over the years the novel began to emerge as her most beloved story, it has a deep resonance, it doesn’t feel like a story for children, but for everyone.

Burnett suffered the loss of her 18 year old son and never really recovered from it, The Secret Garden in many ways was a very personal story for her. It’s about the triumph of hope, of life after loss. It reminds us that even when all the world seems dead, if you’re willing to love, just beneath the surface there is new life waiting to grow.

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Pinafore Dress (22”)
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Vintage Moss Be a Secret Box
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Beauty in the Movies: The Secret Life of Bees

Happy Friday everybody! I’ve chosen a nice summery film for this week since it is, after all, the first week of summer. I’m noticing a trend, a lot of movies with strong female leads are about strong southern women, including The Secret Life of Bees (shout out to Alison Jajac for the recommendation!), which is an excellent film based on the novel by Sue Monk Kidd.

This is one of those books I’ve been meaning to read forever but just haven’t gotten around to, I know I shouldn’t have seen the movie first but it happens, I’ll probably still read the book anyway, I’m crazy like that.

The Secret Life of Bees is the story of 14 year old Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning), a white girl living in South Carolina with her neglectful and abusive father in 1964. Her mother is dead, and the only female figure (and caring relationship) she has is with her housekeeper Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson). After Rosaleen is beaten by white men in town for attempting to register to vote, and Lily’s father T. Ray (Paul Bettany) reveals that her mother abandoned her before she died, Lily sneaks Rosaleen out of the hospital where she is being held, and they hitchhike to Tiburon, a town not far away that was written on a “Black Mary” picture which belonged to Lily’s mother. Seeing the same “Black Mary” image on a jar of honey once in Tiburon, the two are directed to the home of the honey-maker, August Boatwright (Queen Latifah), who agrees to let them stay in her idyllic pink house.

August lives with her two sisters, June (Alicia Keys) and May (Sophie Okonedo). The three are financially comfortable, well-respected, educated, cultured, and un-married. Unfortunately this was a rare combination to see in Black women during the 60’s. Set amidst the height of the civil rights movement in the south, during what is known as the “freedom summer”, the movie captures the feelings of change, hope, and fear that people living during that time experienced everyday.

Suddenly Lily and Rosaleen, two women beaten down by life, find themselves in a sanctuary, and for the first time in either of their lives are given the freedom to explore, and come to know, who they really are. Lily is so motherless it’s gut-wrenching, she wants so badly to be loved and is so utterly neglected, your heart can’t help but go out to her. In the Boatwright sister’s home both she and Rosaleen learn that women can be strong, and they each find that strength within themselves as well. It is lovely how throughout the movie the characters blossom, both mentally and physically, simply from love, encouragement, and friendship.

I don’t want to give anything else away but as you can imagine this is a story about women, more specifically mothers, and the search for the mother within, which teaches us how to take care of ourselves, and how to cope with what life gives us.

On another note, did Dakota Fanning ever have an awkward stage? Seriously, I wish I was that well-adjusted at her age. She plays the stifled desperation of this character exceedingly well, in this role she breaks out of any “child star” box she might have been trapped in, it’s such a reserved performance which makes it all the more moving, and it’s great that she is exactly the same age as the character, she fully embodies Lily.

I have to point out how amazing Paul Bettany is in this film as well—plus points for him for saying he wanted to do this film because it is “about women” and that “there aren’t enough films that are about women”, that actually isn’t a direct quote, but it’s the gist. He does a fantastic job of keeping the odious character of T.Ray from being one-dimensional. We hate his character, while at the same time Bettany finds some little shred of humanity to grab on to, which keeps the character slightly gray.

It’s interesting that three of the main Black female characters in this film are portrayed by singers—they all do a spectacular job don’t get me wrong, but it does draw attention to the fact that there are very few Black actresses out there who are considered big enough names to headline a movie. And that’s a shame.

The Secret Life of Bees is a beautiful female coming of age story which we don’t see too often. Two others that I could think of both feature young women in search of information about a mother who has died, both My Girl (I guess more the sequel My Girl 2, but they both deal with this theme) and Stealing Beauty, I’m sure there are others too (let me know if you think of any!). The connection between mother and daughter is exceptionally strong, and when broken, leaves a gaping hole. This film speaks to anyone seeking understanding in a situation they have no control over, and even if you can’t relate directly to the characters, all of us can understand the need for family, for acceptance, and for freedom.

I’m a geek and I love listening to commentary on movies (especially while I paint) so when I was listening to the director, actors, and producers talk about this film I found it moving how close this story was to their hearts. It’s mentioned over and over how low the budget was for the film. You would think with such big names attached, and the pull of a bestselling novel as well, it would have received better backing. Once again the message is that not enough people want to see films like this which are specifically made for women,  I find that so depressing.

Some critics called out the story for being too “icky-sweet”, we hear that a lot about films made for women. It was also criticized for not having strong enough male characters, which I think is pretty funny because it passes the Bechdel test in reverse for men, despite being a film largely devoted to its female characters. I also think the male characters are far more fleshed out and 3 dimensional than most women usually are in heavily male dominated movies, or even male characters in your standard big budget film. Maybe I’m sensitive, but both of these critiques just scream “eww, chick flick, gross”. Men can keep making the same boring action/bromance movies over and over again, but this gets referred to as a “tired fable” when I can barely think of two movies that are remotely close to it.

So, put it on your Netflix queue, and support films made for, by, and featuring strong women characters! You might also need a box of tissues, but you won’t regret it, I promise.

I do want to talk for a minute about this “strong southern women” thing. When I typed in the term to Google I got hundreds of thousands of results. When I typed in the term “strong northern women”, Google asked me if I meant “strong southern women”. So why is this such a dominant archetype? Is it more unusual to have a strong, independent women in the south which in turn makes the character stand out more, or seem more compelling in her strength? Are northern women (or western or eastern) already thought of as “strong” making the archetype less of an anomaly? I’m trying to think of movies that feature female characters that fit into an archetype of another location. Strong New York woman? Meh, all I can think of is Lost in Yonkers for some reason. It seems that if that archetype ever existed it has been overshadowed by the ladies of Sex and the City, who unfortunately don’t appear nearly as empowering or interesting as the representations of their southern counterparts. I’m not from the south so I don’t know, but I’d love to hear if anyone has some ideas about where this model of feminine power comes from. It’s interesting that although the south is usually considered more conservative than the north (or at least the eastern and western seaboards) they seem to trump us in this respect. Maybe it’s a paradigm grown out of repression? I’d love to know other people’s opinions on this, especially if there are any southern ladies out there!

Have a great weekend, and get out and enjoy that sun!

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Miranda Kerr wants you to “Treasure Yourself”

So, if you haven’t heard, the gorgeous supermodel/Victoria’s Secret model Miranda Kerr has written a book titled “Treasure Yourself” aimed at helping give teen girls self-esteem/proper diet and nutrition. My usual response to any form of self-esteem boosting publication is “yay!” but after reading the little blurb in Elle this month about Kerr’s book I found myself getting annoyed, I knew it was wrong of me, but sometimes we get annoyed by things even before we know why.

I hate that my initial response was “ugh, seriously, she has body acceptance issues?” but unfortunately, petty person that I am, it was my first thought. Miranda Kerr seems like a lovely woman, she really does. I don’t know tons about her, only that she is dating Orlando Bloom, and is Australian, she always seems very genial and bubbly, and of course, she is perfect looking. I know that my idea of “perfect looking” might not be everyone’s, and I’m sure Kerr, like most of us, has felt uncomfortable in her body at times, but she is pretty much, unanimously gorgeous, right?

Being standardly beautiful doesn’t mean you never feel bad about yourself, or even that you can see yourself the way everyone else sees you, but I can’t help but feel like taking advice from Miranda Kerr about body confidence, is equivalent to Donald Trump telling me how to be thrifty. Crystal Renn is also a gorgeous model, however she is considered plus size, which to me denotes some sort of outsider status on her part,  I guess that is why I believe her struggle a bit more. Even though I know beautiful women can have a dysmorphic disorder, or feel just plain old unattractive, it’s quotes like this from Kerr that bother me:

“One thing I tell girls who want to break in to the industry is that there’s no such thing as ‘looking’ like a model. There are so many different shapes and sizes, and everyone has things they want to change: freckles in odd places, dimples where they might not want them, and hair where it shouldn’t be. Just remember that picture-perfect doesn’t exist — perfection is you, just the way you are.

While that is a great message, I for one as a teenager was dealing with much bigger issues than having unwanted hair and freckles. I was dealing with some serious body/beauty issues, and a model telling me that I’m perfect just the way I am only seems to emphasize the difference between myself and the ideal. The world is always telling us that we’re not perfect the way we are, so having a woman who the world consistently tells us is perfect acting as though it should be as easy for everyone else to accept themselves, just seems condescending, even though I’m sure that is not her intention. It puts a nice easy gloss over the real issues that teens, and women in general, face in terms of their bodies, rather than focusing on how individual and personal a struggle acceptance can be.

I haven’t read Kerr’s book, but I would like to when it comes out (nobody seems to have a release date yet). I find the pairing of a self-esteem book with a nutrition/diet slant counter intuitive, especially for teens. If she really wants girls to accept themselves as they are, then why have the whole “make better” aspect of the book at all? Wouldn’t it be more effective if she simply shared her own stories and feelings of self-consciousness in order to illustrate that even supermodels can feel the pressure of perfection? To me, that is the interesting point, because if a woman as outwardly beautiful as Miranda Kerr has trouble seeing herself as gorgeous, then we really are all screwed. And maybe, just hearing her talk about those feelings would be enough to help girls deal with their own self-esteem without giving them diet tips. Then maybe girls could truly accept that they are perfect, just they way they are.

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