The Chalk Garden

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"A girl on the verge of womanhood... a woman on the edge of loneliness... both suspicious of affection, yet starved for love."
  • Approved
  • 1964
  • 7.2  (2,458)
  • 61

Set in the English countryside during the 1950s, "The Chalk Garden" is a classic drama that explores the complex relationships between three generations of women. Adapted from the play by Enid Bagnold, the film follows the story of Mrs. St. Maugham (Deborah Kerr), a wealthy, but troubled widow who hires a new governess, Miss Madrigal (Hayley Mills), to care for her granddaughter, Laurel (Hayley Mills). The arrival of Miss Madrigal at the St. Maugham estate starts a chain of events that leads to the revelation of long-buried secrets, and the discovery of the true nature of the relationship between the three women.

Deborah Kerr's performance as Mrs. St. Maugham is remarkable, capturing the character's cool detachment and suppressed emotions with ease. The film opens with Mrs. St. Maugham being questioned by a magistrate about a recent incident involving her granddaughter, Laurel. The scene sets the tone for the rest of the film, establishing the idea that there is something not quite right about the St. Maugham household.

Hayley Mills, in a dual role as both Laurel and Miss Madrigal, is also excellent. As Laurel, she embodies the rebellious, precocious teenager who is bored with her isolated life and prone to acting out. Her interactions with Miss Madrigal are fraught with tension, as each is trying to gain the upper hand in their relationship. As Miss Madrigal, Mills adopts a stern, unforgiving persona, initially resistant to Laurel's attempts to get close to her, but gradually warming to her charge as she gains insight into her troubled past.

John Mills, Hayley's real-life father, also stars in the film as Maitland, Mrs. St. Maugham's estranged son. His character brings a sense of levity to the otherwise heavy drama, providing a counterpoint to Mrs. St. Maugham's stoic demeanor. Maitland is a charming rogue, with a quick wit and an infectious laughter.

Despite the stellar cast, the true strength of "The Chalk Garden" lies in its script. The story deftly weaves together themes of family dynamics, personal loss, and redemption. The dialogue is intelligent and poignant, with each character revealing themselves slowly over the course of the film. There are no clear villains or heroes in the story, just complex human beings struggling with their own pasts and presents.

The film is also visually stunning, with lush gardens and tranquil landscapes forming the backdrop of the story. Director Ronald Neame makes excellent use of the environment, contrasting the colorful flowers and verdant trees against the stark white walls of the St. Maugham estate. There is a sense of life and growth outside the walls of the house, but within them, everything is stagnant and unchanging.

The score, composed by Malcolm Arnold, also enhances the film's mood. The music is understated and melancholic, never overpowering the dialogue or action onscreen. It is a subtle, yet effective touch that serves to heighten the emotional impact of the story.

Overall, "The Chalk Garden" is a sophisticated drama that will appeal to fans of character-driven stories. It explores complex themes with subtlety and intelligence, and boasts a talented cast that brings the nuanced characters to life. While it may not be a film for everyone, those who appreciate thought-provoking cinema will find much to enjoy in this classic gem from the 1960s.

The Chalk Garden
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  • IMDB Rating
    7.2  (2,458)
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